Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: The Upside

the upside indexThe English remake finds something to offer even to those who have seen the French version

There are actually a number of reasons to do an English version of a film. Two come to mind: Wanting to offer a different approach and tapping a market that the original hasn’t reached. Also, there is a lack of bromances that are rated ‘M’ or below. I couldn’t think of other films that would have a similar effect as ‘The Upside’ and ‘Intouchables’ in which both have managed to capture my attention (though for the former, it was more of its link to the latter).

In this iteration, Philippe turns into Philip and Driss becomes Dell. While I wasn’t crazy about the French title (‘Intouchables’), it’s English translation (‘Untouchable’) was okay enough. Though I’m a bit at loss as to why the title was translated in English for those who didn’t mind watching the film with subtitles (or those not yet fluent in French, like me). Thankfully the marketing team of Escape Artists and Lantern Entertainment decided to change it to ‘The Upside’. The English translation (‘Untouchable’) make it seem like the story has some sort of a sports component. Then there’s the obvious link to the message of what the poster is attempting to convey.

The Setup: Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) coasts through life avoiding jail by halfheartedly applying for jobs with the goal of getting a signature to prove that he is looking. During one of those job searches, he stumbles into an interview for a carer to Philip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston), a high net worth wheelchair bound quadriplegic. Philip is just going through the motions and treats the tasks and decisions throughout his day as one unending revolving door. A short verbal sparring match ensues when Dell barges in an interview in progress so he can get his signature and leave. However, Philip takes an interest in Dell after hearing a number of coarsely honest comebacks.

The Inciting Incident: Philip offering Dell the ‘Life Auxiliary’ job. Since Dell can’t get out of that conversation just with a signature (as he had done with previous interviews), he has no choice but to stick with it as the result would be being returned to jail. We get a couple of scenes that remind Dell that the opportunity with Philip is something he should consider. With inciting incidents, it’s kind of tricky, because Dell going to jail could be considered or even at the point of his release. Since I’m usually partial when it happens within the film itself because of my belief that with any story worth spending time on, it’s not hidden from view. Since this is a ‘buddy movie’, Philip also gets his and it happens much earlier: when Yvonne chooses to employ extraordinary measures to revive him.

One of the biggest surprises I’m hearing from viewers is that Dell (or Driss) is interpreted as being submissive. Did I just watch a different film? Before Dell barges in while another candidate is still being interviewed, we are shown how all of the applicants come across as quite pliable. They might not be exactly characterised with the word, but they are definitely closer to docile compared to Dell (who sites the US Constitution as the reason the question about the details of his incarceration is irrelevant to him getting the job). There’s also those instances when Dell gets told off by Yvonne: he doesn’t just accept those judgements and instead requests her to reconsider.

The biggest parallel of the two characters is that they are both floating through life. Yes, Dell has his son to think about but doesn’t really have any interest in moving forward in his life. So that means the immediate goal is to stay out of jail. Philip is the one who is more lost, as he is still upset that Yvonne approved drastic measures to revive him. This is why them crossing paths is important: if it didn’t happen, they would still likely be drifting. Between the two, it does seem like Dell is the protagonist. I appreciated that the filmmakers didn’t attempt to muddle the story by adding unnecessary characters just for the sake of conflict and drama.

While rewatching the first act of the film, I found myself thinking about an exchange between Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele) and Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) in an episode of ‘The Good Fight’:

Lucca: I won some money playing poker, and she lent me my stake.
Marissa: How much?
Lucca: How much did she lend?
Marissa: No, how much did you win?
[Lucca hesitates]
Lucca: $1,500
Marissa: Oh. Well, that was anticlimactic.
Lucca: But she lent me the money to bet, so…shouldn’t I give her all the winnings?
Marissa: No. She doesn’t need $1,500. Keep it.
Lucca: What if it’s a lot more? Don’t ask me how much. Okay?
Marissa: Okay. How much?
Lucca: No matter how much, I should give it all to her, right?
Marissa: No. If you feel guilty, get her a gift. Something a rich person needs.
Lucca: What does a rich person need?
Marissa: Love?

In a way, I’m convinced that it’s what Philip saw in Dell during that first conversation. Maybe not instantly as they have yet to build a friendship, but it ended up as something they were both looking for: a reason to feel excited about waking up in the morning. Despite the number of opportunities we are afforded to find friends, it is quite difficult to come across ones that we truly connect with. Since Philip only spent his time working, he didn’t really have much time to invest in looking for those who could be in his life for the long term. It’s only when he finds that he has more time in his hands that the idea of finding someone who he can enjoy life with is something that takes hold.

It was definitely amusing to consider how Philip would have missed references to ‘boo’. I would have thought the countless parties and events he attended would have Flume’s ‘My Boo’ in their playlist. Still, it is possible that he heard the song but just didn’t register the lyrics. A lesser film would have tried to get Dell to explain it, but in this one, it just ends up being a bit of a verbal farce. Though Dell’s foibles are played for laughs, this chapter (the part where he learns to be fully responsible for someone’s welfare rather than just plainly having a job to catch up with his backlog of child support payments) of his life is essential for him to be a better father for his son.

As for the bromance aspect, it’s as simple as they both ‘see’ each other. Dell makes more of an impression to Philip when he tells the guy who takes their order to address Philip directly. Then Philip makes it clear that he thinks Dell also has intelligence. Friendship and money is clearly a tricky thing to navigate and the film gives a couple of points to consider, the most important being knowing your friend first. Other people would probably be annoyed with the ‘Give Dell $10,000’ note or being pitched a business idea (or four). The message Philip seemed to be sending to Dell is: just be yourself and we’ll be okay.

Kevin Hart is a surprise to me in this (I had yet to see ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’). He proves that he can effortlessly (at least seemingly) share the screen with greats like Bryan Cranston and Nicole Kidman. So maybe we’ll see him in more meatier roles? Generally, I welcome those who are more known to lean towards layered dialogues looking to step into roles that have more depth. If I had not known that his kind of comedy (at least the aspect where he gets up on stage and tells jokes to a live audience) would be the kind that I avoid, I would have been surprised. Just like I was surprised to find out after watching Season 1 of ‘Living with Yourself’ that Aisling Bea is actually a comic and her type of comedy is very ‘MA’.

The common thread in stories that have characters experience life altering events is that their yearning are not treated differently. This is what both the French and English versions share. Consider ‘Reign Over Me’ which has Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) coming out of the shell he has retreated to after experiencing a tragedy, then being more open after finding out that Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) is someone he knew before his life changed. Philip is taken by Dell in a similar way.

Comedic Moments:

  • Dell’s reaction after Philip offers him the job
  • Dell making an attempt to gauge Yvonne’s ‘type
  • Dell’s definition of ‘Travel’
  • Dell letting Philip going ahead with his order (I’m not sure if there are 14, but there looks to be at least 5!)

What I’m trying to get my head around through, is the that there are those who believe that Nicole Kidman could be given more. Are viewers wanting her to have some sort of a shouting match with either Dell or Philip? Or instead of not realising how much she cared for her employer beyond just being a trusted friend? I’m not sure. I’m just a believer that a performer can be excellent in a quieter role as they can with one that is Oscar worthy. I mean, I can agree that there could be more to Yvonne than just being the stern gatekeeper of Philip’s penthouse. While listening to the audio commentary for ‘Avengers: Endgame’, Joe Russo talks about Gwyneth Paltrow opting for restraint during a pivotal scene as Pepper Potts. I could definitely see how other actors could have easily gone for a more melodramatic approach (which usually is not the intent, as no actor really aims for melodrama…unless its the tone of the film they are making or that particular scene — but unfortunately sometimes is the result). As for roles that could have been rewritten, there are Carter and Lily. Julianna Margulies and Tate Donovan could have more to offer if given more options (or allowed to spend more time to develop their characters).

At some point I feel like this one is more family friendly than the original (French) version, but I’ll be nitpicking if I say so. Both films are rated ‘M’ and the only leg up is that the English version has is that it is newer (it was released 6 years later), and can integrate emerging trends that ‘The Intouchables’ had missed. Though if you are looking for a drastically different story approach, you won’t find it here. Yes, there are some changes (like adding a few extra beats long after the French one ended), but not so much that it made you feel like Jon Hartmere applied the Pixar process of finding the best version of the story.

The only reason I opted to watch, is for comparison purposes, and was surprised that it was actually decent. So, if you’re the same, it’ll be interesting to hear your view. Though if you’re looking for a film that gives you an idea on how to tackle story, it is a good template. A good exercise if you wanted to find where to take a lacklustre script (4/10) to the next level (6/10) or maybe you’re tasked to switch from one language to another when adopting a film for a specific audience.

Leigh Lim.
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