The Upside review: One of the most unexpected hits of 2012 – the year that gave us The Hunger Games, The Descendants and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel among others – was the French production, The Intouchables. It became the second most successful French film of all time when it came to box office takings abroad, so a new, English language version of this odd couple story doesn’t come as the most massive of surprises. Living up to the original, though, is another matter.

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The story of a fabulously wealthy man who is a quadriplegic and chooses the least likely of candidates as his live-in carer – he’s black, street smart and unemployed – is a set up full of racial and social angles, as well as a good dollop of humour. The original was a feel good movie, but one with edge, mainly because of Omar Sy as the carer: his physical presence and performance gave his character the hardest of noses.

So this re-working has English speaking – or should that just be American? – audiences in mind. At least, that seems to be who director Neil Burger has in mind. But the real question we should be asking is why? Why remake it at all? The original doesn’t need it and, for anybody who saw the first one, the opening scene comes as something of a shock. It reproduces the scene from The Intouchables almost move for move and word for word. And it’s not the first time. There are multiple sequences which are carbon copies of the original, which makes the “why?” question hover over the film in even larger letters. Admittedly, the actors have changed and we now have Bryan Cranston as the billionaire and, more surprisingly, Kevin Hart as his carer, and the language is English rather than French. But that’s about it.

There are some points of difference, but none of any real consequence. The film streamlines the plot, so that Dell’s (Hart) home life is very much focussed on his broken marriage and relationship with his son – it’s simpler that way. Burger has given us something that really doesn’t live up to the original. On the plus side are its two main actors. As the wheelchair bound Philip, Cranston is an instantly good choice for the role: it’s tailor made for him and he delivers exactly the polished performance you’d expect, alternately warm, moving, touching and funny. Hart is surprisingly effective, slipping occasionally into something closer to his stand-up routine, but never quite descending into stereotype. That said, his character is symptomatic of where this version falls down.

The whole point of the original story was that the carer didn’t patronise his patient, didn’t treat him like he was anybody special or different. If anything, he initially treated him with a certain level of contempt and disrespect, making him a real contrast to everybody else around him. That’s not the case here. Hart is more reluctant than not giving a damn, so it’s obvious how their friendship is going to develop: it’s telegraphed almost from the moment they meet. The film has lost that edginess and, although it never quite teeters into sentimentality, it toys with it to the point of discomfort.

If you saw The Intouchables, you may easily be tempted to see this one. But think twice if you’re suffering from that seven year itch, because chances are you’ll be happier giving the original a repeat viewing. The Upside will entertain but disappoint. It’s very much second best and not only for anybody who saw where it started out.

The Upside review by Freda Cooper, January 2019.

The Upside is in cinemas from 11th January 2019.

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The Upside