Review – Hart Shows Heart (“The Upside”)

This isn’t the first time Hollywood has given us films about the disabled and the people who cared for them. Me Before You, The Fundamentals of Caring, Breathe, The Theory About Everything, and The Intouchables are just a few. However, this one strives to be more mainstream than the others. Does it work?

In this practically shot-for-shot, beat-for-beat remake of the 2011 French movie, The Intouchables, comedian Kevin Hart tries out his dramatic chops as Dell Scott, an ex-con loser in the Big Apple. Even his ex-wife, Latrice (Aja Naomi King) and his estranged tween son, Anthony (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) can’t stand him. Desperately looking for work, he thinks he’s getting a janitor’s job in the opulent penthouse of millionaire/quadriplegic Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston), a best selling author and financial broker. But Phillip wants him as his personal aide because of his swagger and attitude. Phillip’s trustworthy secretary, Yvonne (Nicole Kidman), however voices her stern disapproval on this decision.

Moving in to his palatial digs, Dell gets to know his boss better and soon the two bond over cars, music, the opera, MaryJane, and Aretha Franklin. Things get a little dicey when he has to change Phillip’s catheter though (a funny, cringe-inducing scene). But even after all the laughter and Dell trying to make a painting to impress Phillip, one hurdle is left: getting Phillip to meet with his long-time letter-writing love, Lily (Julianne Margulies), which he’s scared to do. There’s para-gliding hijinks, the second act break-up that leads to the requisite third act reconciliation, and a change from the original movie’s ending.

This is John Hartmere’s first screenplay and it was like he downloaded The Intouchables script and (aside from translating), just made a few tweaks here and there. Seriously, I saw the 2011 French film and it was like watching the same exact movie, except that this was tailor made for Hart’s comedic flair, plus an added side-story about an ex-wife & son. I’m guessing that he saw the 2011 movie and thought, “Hell, why mess with perfection?” Even director Neil Burger (Limitless, Divergent), didn’t stray too far either, as many of the SAME camera shots are mirrored as well!

Now for the good part. IF you never saw the previous movie, then you’re in luck. On its own, this movie does possess many fine qualities that sets it apart. First up is Hart’s turn at drama which, I gotta say, is quite good. When he doesn’t occasionally slip back into his over-the-top wacky Hart antics, he shows he really CAN act. Bryan Cranston is always good and turns out another terrific performance, but it’s Nicole Kidman that is wonderful as the understated secretary. And look for King who, for the little amount of time she has on the screen, is dynamic.

Now for the burning question: Is this movie as good as the 2011 French one? Depends. The French movie plays it real with compassion, warmth, and sincerity, while this remake is rushed with comedy, pathos, and has some forced scenes. So it all depends on your taste in movies. I really liked the 2011 version, but this movie made me laugh more, even though it pissed me off that they shot the same movie!

The Intouchables (2011)

If you’ve seen this movie, then see The Upside with Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart, you’ll immediately notice something… it’s the same movie! BTW: so popular was this movie, that it was also remade in India and Spain as well. And it’s all based on the true story of wealthy Corsican French businessman, Phillipe Pozzo diBorgo.

It’s the slums of France and things aren’t looking good for Bakary “Driss” Bassari (Omar Sy). He’s the eldest & estranged son of a struggling family of seven and a recovering felon looking for some kind of work. At a potential job interview, he just wants to get in, get out, and get a signature showing he was there in order to continue receiving his welfare benefits. But during his interview he meets Philippe (Francois Cluzet), an obscenely wealthy quadriplegic and his attractive assistant, Magalie (Audrey Fleurot), who are looking for candidates to be Phillipe’s live-in caregiver. Driss, who could care less, chats openly with Phillipe and, surprisingly, gets hired on a trial basis.

Driss, despite lacking any professional experience, is intrigued with the job… not to mention his new living quarters which are stunning. Hell, his bathroom alone is bigger than his entire apartment! Driss does well caring for Philippe, even if his methods are rather unconventional, much to the amusement and enjoyment of Phillipe. Even when he’s told that Driss has a criminal record, Philippe doesn’t care, and the two begin to bond as Driss shows Phillipe such things as pierced ears, smoking ganja, and soul music. Phillipe, on the other hand, introduces the tall, lanky African-American youth to his gorgeous Maserati Quattroporte car, classical music, and the finer points of art.

There are two throw-away subplots involving Phillipe’s teenage daughter and her boyfriend, and another with Driss’s delinquent younger cousin, but the real story is how these two men start sharing each other lives. While Driss gets Phillipe to date a women he’s only been corresponding to with letters, Phillipe gets Driss to go para-gliding with him (and it’s not faked either–it’s shot with Go-Pro cameras!). You better get your tissues out for the ending, too, ’cause it’s a real happy tear-jerker.

Written & directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano, this movie is a cut above the American version as the characters are presented as real, emotional, and multi-layered instead of caricatures out for a laugh. Omar Sy (like a young Idris Elba) is outstanding as Driss, a no-nonsense, hardened street thug who doesn’t take pity or condescend to Phillipe, rather using humor and biting wit to get through their day together. Cluzet is also terrific, having to show all his emotion from the neck up, and he achieves a profound performance in doing so. Fluerot, is beautiful and sharp as a tack in her role, and don’t overlook Anne Ly Ny as the finicky housekeeper, Yvonne.

This movie went on to break all box office records in France, and win a slew of awards as well, including eight nominations as the Cesar Awards (the French version of our Academy Awards) and even got a Golden Globe nomination here. It was SO popular a film in France, the movie was distributed all over Europe and Asia (34 countries!), making major bank and winning awards in each country as well. Wow! The rights for the 2017 remake, The Upside, were bought back in 2011, but it went though SO many directors and actors it didn’t start production until 2017.

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