In 2011, The Intouchables was released. The French-language masterpiece (considered so in Europe at least) focuses on the true and inspiring story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and following its release broke box office records in its native country and in Germany, sending most of the continent into a doolally frenzy. Now, in an attempt to replicate that same whirlwind fever of passion, the US-based production company Escape Artists have taken it upon themselves to make an English adaptation of the award-winning film, casting Bryan Cranston as Phil, the quadriplegic, Kevin Hart as the reformed convict, Dell, alongside Nicole Kidman as Phil’s business colleague, Yvonne. A star-studded cast yes, but does the movie deliver?
Taking direct inspiration from its 2011 counterpart, The Upside sees Phillip Lacasse suffer a horrifying accident whilst paragliding, resulting in the loss of feeling and movement in his body from the neck down. Now a quadriplegic requiring full-time care and attention, he and his associate Yvonne advertise an opening for an Auxiliary Nurse, a position that Dell, a former convict who needs proof he is applying for jobs in order to avoid breaking his parole order, finds himself fitting the bill for. A curious duo to say the least, Phil and Dell begin a venture down a road neither have trodden before, teaching each other lessons along the way whilst also facing up to the realities and restraints that their very lives have thrust upon them.
The phrase “if it ain’t, broke don’t fix it” unfortunately rings like a persistent mosquito throughout The Upside, with scenes mirroring those of its French predecessor to intoxicating effect. That is not to say, however, that those sequences are not well acted. On the contrary, Cranston delivers a performance full of life and emotion and the actor must be commended for his execution of a role that places so much emphasis on facial expression alone. His onscreen partner Kevin Hart also shows the audience his versatile range of acting abilities, playing a more purposeful and regretful Dell in and around his trademark moments of humour. Nicole Kidman also offers a splash of dignity and integrity to the story, bringing her own narrative arc to the fold and counteracting Hart in an evident coming together of two very different worlds.
Together, the duo does work on screen, but Cranston and Hart seem to consistently live in the shadow of their precursors Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy. Despite the film having the strong foundations for some powerful dialogue, the script never fully delivers the impactful blow we so dearly wish for, and this, paired with the run time of over two hours, can make it feel like a lacklustre effort. Away from the visual elements, Rob Simonsen delivers a beautiful score alongside a multitude of classical numbers, each of which develop the character of Dell to the amusement of the audience and to Phillip.
In the end, though, the answer to the ultimate question was answered before the film even began: Was this remake necessary? No, it wasn’t. Time, effort and money have clearly been invested in this project but, unfortunately, the purpose and raw beauty of the story was lost during its overseas transfer, and this ultimately leaves a sickly taste in the mouth.
The Upside is released nationwide on 11th January 2019.
Watch the trailer for The Upside here: