Rumors of an English-language remake of The Intouchables began swirling soon after the 2011 movie became France’s second highest-grossing film. And despite the acclaim and praise garnered when the movie was released stateside in 2012, The Intouchables still felt like a movie a decade too late. Its heart was in the right place, but its sentiment was simplistic and saccharine. Neither of which have been improved by a seven-year lag and a scenery change from Paris to New York City.
Now titled The Upside, writer Jon Hartmere stays close to Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache’s Intouchables screenplay except for one rather notable change: the character of Driss (Omar Sy in The Intouchables) is no longer an African immigrant. His English counterpart, Dell (Kevin Hart), is just another New Yorker, making the other characters’ disdain for Dell’s presence all the more repugnant.
But first, the story: Phillip (Bryan Cranston) is a filthy rich businessman who was crippled in a paragliding accident. Now he needs a live-in caregiver to help him with day-to-day activities. Enter Dell, an ex-con looking for job interview signatures. Thanks to a silly miscommunication, Dell ends up at Phillip’s penthouse and, with flimsy logic, is hired on the spot by Phillip. Not because Phillip likes Dell, but because Dell might be incompetent enough to let Phillip die while other caregivers would leap to the rescue.
But Phillip doesn’t die, nor is his death impulse much more than a frustration. Instead, Phillip and Dell’s relationship blossoms: Dell is introduced to opera and fine art and loves it. Dell returns the favor by getting Phillip high and taking him to Papaya King. And along the way, Dell helps Phillip see that the love of his life has been by his side this whole time. Cut, print, that’s a wrap.
The Upside is an insultingly simple story that occasionally veers into the conflicts between Phillip and Dell’s class, race, and physical abilities, but frustratingly pulls back at the mere suggestion of an uncomfortable moment. Much like The Intouchables, the aim here is to present a feel-good story, even if it means ignore all the aspects of life that are far from feeling good. All cloaked in that ever-malleable marketer: “Based on a true story.” The Upside wears those five words as a shield, and it is exhausting.