by Dave Kibler
In the film “The Shawshank Redemption,” Morgan Freeman’s character is famously quoted as saying, “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin.” At the outset of “The Upside”, both main characters are busy doing the latter. Philip (Bryan Cranston) is a New York quadrapeligic billionaire who has given up on life following the death of his wife. Dell (Kevin Hart) is an ex-con absent father who appears doomed to head back to prison. Dell answers a job call to be a “life auxillary” for Phillip, and somehow manages to land the 24/7 job to the dismay of Phillip’s Harvard-educated business assistant Yvonne (Nicole Kidman). The two men bond in ways only a “buddy” movie can have happen (white billionaire needs to loosen up, black ex-con need to smarten up). There are setbacks along the way, including a disastrous date with a long-distance admirer (Juliana Marguiles, wasted in this movie as Lily). In the end, both men mature and grow and end up exactly where you would expect them to.
Yes, the plot is cliche-driven from a screenplay by John Hartmere. Neil Burger’s direction is light-handed, letting the two comedic talents showcase their dramatic skills as well. Still, the sheer charisma of Hart and Cranston pull through what otherwise might be a mundane movie into the realm of something more. There’s a sincerity and a warmth about the performances that lends charm to the proceedings. These are characters worth cheering for. The results do not disappoint.
“The Upside” is rated PG-13 for language and for strong innuendo (a catheter scene made me absolutely squirm). While not a perfect film, “The Upside” is a worthwhile movie for its portrayal of how society marginalizes both the severely handicapped and members of a minority. Sometimes lessons are best learned while laughing.
3 ½ stars out of five.