The Upside

First Hit: Both funny and pointed, the relationship between Dell (Kevin Hart) and Phillip (Bryan Cranston) highlights taking responsibility for where they find themselves and opening up to something new.

Kevin Hart can often overwhelm a film with a frenetic energy that can push the meaning of the film aside. However, director Neil Burger was able to reign in Kevin’s tendencies with a clear vision and focused script.

Here as Dell, newly released from prison, we are introduced to him attempting to get signatures on a form that proves he’s trying to seek employment. Dell makes it clear the jobs that the computer system spits out for him are not fitting while seemingly he seems to forget he’s a felon and if Dell doesn’t seek to prove he’s job hunting, he’ll end up back in jail.

Thinking that he’s applying for a position as a janitor in an extremely high-end apartment building in New York City, he ends up in a room with other hopeful people who are highly trained to be a full-time on-site caretaker of Phillip, a wealthy quadriplegic man.

Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) is Phillip’s executive taking care of all Phillip’s affairs, schedules, and hiring. As qualified people are interviewed, Dell gets impatient and barges in an interview, asking Phillip to sign a form. There is humor in the asking a person with quadriplegia to sign the papers, and as the exchange goes on, the hook is that Phillip senses or feels a challenge with Dell and someone he can trust not to try to resuscitate him if he starts to have trouble breathing. Phillip gives the impression he’s looking for a way out of his life.

Carrying his deep sorrow for his wife who passed because of cancer he blames himself for the choice he made to go paragliding in a storm. His accident caused him to lose function of his arms and legs. The guilt of this accident took away his ability for him to be available to his wife as she went to the stages of dying. Phillip carrying this pain is the burden he lugs through the film.

Dell, on the other hand, wants to be a father to his young boy Anthony (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) who he's rarely seen because of his time in prison. His son’s mother, Latrice (Aja Naomi King), is angry at Dell for not providing and not being there for his son. When Dell met his father in prison, and his father said “welcome home” he realized he had to change his ways, that is his burden through the film.

This story is about these two men, together, learning about how to live and grow from their mistakes while learning about how to unburden themselves from their past decisions.

There were visible signs throughout the film about how Phillip would find love again, and that was disappointing. However, there were amazing and funny moments as they discover what they have in common.

At times, I think the film dragged a bit. However, I don’t know what pieces I’d change.

Hart was elegantly constrained in this role which allowed a fullness of character. His interactions with Latrice were well done. Cranston was brilliant as the quadriplegic multi-millionaire. His ability to carry a level of remorse deeply hidden, and allow its uncovering was terrific. Kidman in a minor role was beautiful. She brought just the right amount of integrity and deep longing. Winston was great as the son who wanted his father to be there for him and was rejected numerous times. King was fantastic as a woman who loved Dell but was waiting for him to show up. Jon Hartmere wrote a sharp and well thought out screenplay. Neil Burger had a strong vision for what he wanted to see, and he was able to achieve a developed heartwarming film.

Overall: This was a very entertaining, funny, thoughtful and enjoyable film.