Arts & Leisure

“The Upside” has the upside of humanity

“THE UPSIDE” stars Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston.

By Jim Tortolano

Are you tired of every new film being parsed through the lens of its real or imagined political, cultural and racial implications?

“Green Book,” a marvelous movie, was condemned by some as being a “feel-good liberal film” on the allegedly absurd grounds than a white person and a black person could become genuine friends in the early 1960s.

“On the Basis of Sex” took some heat as being “patronizing” and focusing too much on “the family angle.”

Now comes “The Upside,” with a downsliding black man (Kevin Hart as Dell) headed to the bottom but rescued by a last chance opportunity to work as a “life auxiliary” to a quadriplegic wealthy white man (Bryan Cranston as Phil).

Like “Green Book,” this is based on a true story, but the temptation in some quarters is to take sides. Is this movie annoying to some because of the stereotypical lead characters – ex-con black man who can’t pay his child support and too-uptight white man in need of loosening up and enjoying life?

Or is it perhaps a testament to how much we need each other as people, not merely as representatives of our tribe?

As you might expect, the two leads slowly began to draw together in a bond of mutual respect and affection, and, yes, they influence each other in a way that makes the trendy term “cultural appropriation” seem oddly quaint.

Both performances are enjoyable and the screenplay by Jon Hartmere makes the inevitable – by Hollywood standards – seem natural.

Nicole Kidman is barely there as Yvonne, Phil’s conventional but adoring business colleague who you just know is headed for … well, you know.

The humor and human interest of “The Upside” carries it above being just another buddy film and is life-affirming. There are friends and futures to be found in unexpected places.

“The Upside” is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and drug use.

 

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