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The big theme at the heart of The Upside, the American remake of 2011 French hit Les Intouchables, starring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart, is that everyone deserves a second chance. This point, hammered home everywhere from the dialogue to the cringey voiceover in the trailer that tells us that “sometimes you have to run out of chances, before someone takes a chance on you” is ironic on many levels. First, because this is a remake! Second, because Hart himself is currently seeking redemption after being ousted from his gig as host of the 2019 Academy Awards after he refused to apologize for past homophobic tweets and comments. And third, because for a film that’s so big on learning from past mistakes, The Upside falls woefully short.
Hollywood has a long history of remaking French films. Unfortunately, for the most part, they haven’t been especially good at it (see — or rather don’t see — Dinner for Schmucks). Both The Upside and Les Intouchables are loosely based on the real friendship between French aristocrat Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his carer, Algerian immigrant Abdel Sellou, immortalized in Borgo’s best-selling memoir, A Second Wind. Written and directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, Les Intouchables remains France’s biggest international hit ever, grossing roughly $340 million even before its eventual U.S. release by the Weinstein Company. (The now infamous company also holds the rights to the remake, yet another The Upside to overcome).
Still, despite its overall popularity, Les Intouchables was plagued with criticism regarding its depictions of racist stereotypes, which many hoped would be addressed in the Hollywood remake. In his Variety review in September 2011, Jay Weissberg wrote: “The Weinstein Co., which has bought remake rights, will need to commission a massive rewrite to make palatable this cringe-worthy comedy about a rich, white quadriplegic hiring a black man from the projects to be his caretaker, exposing him to ‘culture’ while learning to loosen up.”
Unfortunately, that’s a pretty concise summary of The Upside. Cranston plays Philip Lacasse, a rich New York businessman who has been left paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair by a paragliding accident. Depressed after the death of his wife, he seeks a caregiver who won’t pity him, and will respect his wish that no extraordinary measures be taken to revive him if he stops breathing. Enter Dell Scott (Hart), an ex-con from the projects seeking enough signatures to prove to his parole officer that he’s actually looking for a job. Instead, he gets hired, much to the dismay of Philip’s business manager, Yvonne (Nicole Kidman).