There’s a lot of opera in The Upside.
That, in itself, is not a surprise. The Upside is about a wealthy, emotionally repressed white man and, if there’s anything we’ve learned from the movies, it’s that wealthy, repressed white people always love opera.
Another things that we’ve learned from the movies is that wealthy, emotionally repressed white people always hire a streetwise person of color to help them learn to appreciate life. This person of color will inevitably not care for all of the opera and will then introduce the wealthy, emotionally repressed white person to their own type of music. If the movie’s a comedy, that music will be rap. If it’s a drama, that music will be jazz. The Upside is a dramedy so the music of emotional liberation is Aretha Franklin.
There’s not a single cliche that goes unused in The Upside. Actually, I take that back. As opposed to so many other films of this short, Phillip (Bryan Cranston) does not start the film as a politically incorrect bigot, which means that we’re spared of any cringey scenes of Philip trying to bait Dell (Kevin Hart) by being casually racist. Otherwise, every cliche imaginable is present in The Upside and it all gets to be a bit much after a while. I’m sure that the film means well and there’s a part of me that felt a little bit guilty about not liking it but seriously, this is one of those movie’s that just keeps coming at you.
Phillip is a paraplegic who wants to die, though not before listening to a lot of opera. Dell is an ex-con who needs to find a job so his parole doesn’t get revoked. Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) is Phillip’s personal assistant. She’s obviously in love with Phillip, though for some reason this fact is never acknowledged until the end of the film.
Together …. they solve crimes!
No, actually, they all become friends and learn the importance of celebrating life. It’s a good lesson to learn, make no mistake. But it’s just all so predictable that it’s hard not to resent just how thoroughly and blatantly the film insists on trying to manipulate you. You get the feeling that the filmmakers didn’t have any faith in their audience’s capability to feel empathy. Director Neil Burger did such a great job with Limitless but, with this film, he seems to have lost his sense of pacing. The movie drags from one heartwarming cliche to another, without any hints of the type of quirky self-awareness that would help to make those cliches easier to digest.
Bryan Cranston’s a great actor but, perhaps realizing that he’s merely playing a more a benign version of Walter White, he seems a bit bored here while Nicole Kidman is sabotaged by a script that doesn’t allow her to do much other than reproachfully shake her head. Kevin Hart, however, actually gives a pretty good performance, one that suggests that he actually has a lot of potential as a dramatic actor. The character may be a stereotype but Hart at least brings a bit of energy to the film.
The Upside came out this January and it was actually a modest box office hit. I imagine that a lot of people loved this film for the exact reason that I disliked it. The film’s just too predictable for me to embrace The Upside.