The Upside aims to be a respectable January release that tries to usurp Green Book‘s niche in the market. It sells itself on a ridiculous notion. That people have to try hard to meet and get along with others who belong to different ethnic groups. This is something I achieve every other day when I leave my apartment. But I guess people can still shelter themselves in 2019, when North America is already racially diverse.
This movie’s basis is the life of Abdel Sellou, who is Algerian French, yet both adaptations star black men. I will use as little space as possible to discuss the race bending in adapting true stories. This is now somehow a process that involves people of color to compete for representation. It’s a process that brings resentment from all sides. Nonetheless, this is still a fascinating look of a black man seeing versions of himself.
Sellou’s fictionalized American counterpart, Dell Scott (Kevin Hart), has to apply for jobs as part for his probation program. On this journey he meets his probation officer and a manager of a fast food joint. Both are stereotypical big black women who he doesn’t sexually objectify. And then he applies for what he thinks is a janitorial work in a posh Manhattan building. But he’s in for a predictably life changing surprise.
Dell is actually applying to become a life auxiliary for Philip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston), a quadriplegic financial guru. Even through the application process Philip inadvertently exposes Dell to different versions of blackness. One of the other applicants is black, dressing himself up in what Dell calls Sunday clothes. Dell and eventually Philip become close. Their hangout sessions include the latter taking the former to the opera. Fortuitously, the opera mounts a race bent version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. There, a black soprano plays the Queen of the Night.
There are a few aspects where this remake improves in comparison to the original. In The Intouchables, Driss’ (Omar Sy) mother kicks him out. And in a way, she kicks him out of their predominantly black neighborhood. This leaves him no choice but to integrate to his boss Philippe’s lily white milieu. Here, despite of a work relationship that requires Dell to live with Philip, Dell still has his own life. The latter also has a relationship with other black people. This includes his partner Latrice (Aja Naomi King). Both Jon Hartmere’s script and King carve out moments where she can play a distinct character.
The Intouchables has two fleshed out characters which, as good as that is, sandbags supporting characters, especially female ones. This movie, in some aspects, awkwardly plays out some scenes that exist in the original. However, it improves on the latter with the way it writes women. Aside from Latrice, there’s also Philip’s assistant Yvonne (Nicole Kidman). The original doesn’t make enough space to make its Yvonne (Anne Le Ny) memorable. The remake respects Nicole Kidman enough to give her that room. Although American Yvonne’s character arc involves her transformation from snooty white woman to Dell’s friend, which is, understandably problematic.
I also might as well talk about Kevin Hart who has recently been a controversial figure. His performance here has its occasional spots. Like when he’s acting at his co-stars, all of whom have varying degrees of excellence. Nevertheless, he’s good at playing someone who’s making an effort at mending his relationship with his romantic partner and their son. That’s quite the departure for someone who, of all things, is afraid of having a gay son.
There are also moments of gay panic and unintentional homo-eroticism in the movie. Dell occasionally parades around shirtless in Philip’s penthouse, one of these scenes becoming part of a sight gag. It’s as if Hart doesn’t know the cognitive dissonance involving cinematic heteronormativity and the male gaze. I’m sure he’s someone’s type. There’s also a scene involving Dell using a catheter on Philip’s penis.
Nonetheless, in exposing Dell to different versions of himself, Philip, just like this adaptation, has good intentions. But smarter members of the audience might have valid concerns about these bonding moments as the latter improving the former. And this improvement seems to be for nought. I’ve seen Hart in movies before, an actor who could be elegant in abysmal movie like The Wedding Ringer. But this film insists on Dell being a sore thumb in a sea of Manhattan snobs. And despite having good, fascinating moments, a sore thumb is exactly what watching this movie feels like.
The Intouchables is available on Amazon and no, Amazon didn’t pay me to say that.
- Release Date: 1/11/2019