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The Upside (2017)


Now, here’s a lovely film. Well, sweet. Well, kind. Not particularly realistic, but it doffs its hat to emotions old Jack here has never felt. Well, a bit, I suppose. Existential panic and roaring inconvenience from an aged arse isn’t the same as a middle-aged man dealing with paraplegia, but neither, I suspect, is this touching tale of a powerful new friendship between a societal victim with comedy chops (Kevin Hart – laughs guaranteed) and a moneybag who misjudged a paragliding afternoon and took out his wife and his own mobility. Still, when Bryan Cranston’s Philip Lacasse meets Hart’s Dell Scott, here be The Upside.

It’s a flashback movie, starting and nearly ending with the duo tearing through city streets in a monumentally expensive car. There are a couple of layers to the vignette: a black man in America speeding and baiting cops; the friendship he is enacting to protect and be protected by the white man in America with success. In these late-arriving days of Black Lives Mattering, the systemic racism is all over place. But you know instantly that this scene is about taking risks for a friend.

Cue flash even further back and dazed rich-man is recruiting for a companion-slash-carer. He’s already blessed with Nicole Kidman‘s Yvonne Pendleton, bespectacled and controlled and perhaps controlling personal assistant. She hovers and judges Kevin Hart’s familiar, jittery short-man-as-commentary who, in a parole scenario of some American kind, has to be interviewed for a few jobs to keep his position safe. Of course, he’s not actually after work but can’t help but be interesting and more real than the competition, so gets the job.

Enter back story. He’s a bad husband, not that great a parent, and lives a life so opposite to Philip’s pre-crash existence that two are guaranteed days of strife and a proper bromance.

Look, this film is obvious. Not least because there’s a French original (review to follow with tart comparisons and a dash of François Cluzet) and the cycle of battle, friendship, row and salvation is thoroughly honoured. But that’s ok, because decency of character underpins the whole thing. You know Cranston is frustrated and angry and desperate beneath the smooth calm and unexpected erections. When he goes, it’s cathartic as hell. You know Hart is going to jump towards goodness, gifting that catharsis. But it’s skilfully made, beautifully acted and the fun keeps the mawk far away.

The men get to know each other, as carees and carers always do. Intrude, embarrass, retreat. Intrude, embarrass, accept. Objectify, recognise, give-a-damn. Befriend. (Print that out and get it to Nurse Stabby-Fingers – she’s got some nails to file).

And so we get to know Cranston: guilty, rich, edging towards life and dating again. A tad patronising, but not a fool, as he encourages Hart’s artistic bent, then lets embarrassment become shame and destroy all his relationships. He needs love and to be taken back into the skies that crippled him…

Which is all well and good, but the deeper redemption is Hart’s: using his newfound income for good reasons, earning trust, pursuing it again when it’s damaged, and returning to his anguished friend come time for the original flashback. He is always funny and in your face with honesty – drama chops, too..

This film is a quality outing for a locked-down Sunday. Gather your sweethearts and don’t tell them the ending. It is a thing of male friendship, class barriers and minds meeting beyond them, rich and poor, smug and chaotic, two lives that meet in the self-imposed cruelties of their middle years.

When everything is shit, you need The Upside. It may just gift you redemption.

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