I came into this movie on a holiday high of joy, coming after seeing quality award-contenders, and I came out in a storm of ire and frustration. Hollywood cannot help itself from remaking foreign-language films because of their disbelief that American audiences won’t read subtitles.
The Upside is the American remake of the 2011 French film Intouchables. Both films are based on the true story of a quadriplegic millionaire named Phillip (Bryan Cranston) who hires an unqualified caretaker Dell (Kevin Hart) in his cynicism. The two strike up a friendship that helps them both out of their dire situations.
The star power is definitely there, and Bryan Cranston’s casting could not be better. Nicole Kidman plays the caretaker of Phillip’s business and is also a welcome sight in this movie. Kevin Hart pivots towards a more grounded role from his clownish appearances of his filmography. The American comic succeeds as far as can be expected from him, and I look forward to seeing him in more dramatic roles. However, Hart had to live up to the performance of Omar Sy from the original; the impact of Sy’s acting was such that it catapulted him to stardom, garnering him roles in blockbusters such as Jurassic World, that alone should speak to expectation bar set. The chemistry between Hart and Cranston helps anchor the film and delivers a few laughs, but it’s not nearly enough to touch the hem of the original.
To say it is unfair to compare a remake to its original is absurd, one is reinterpreting the same story and thus a contrast is being invited. The original film was as near perfect a film as one could get, however, many foreign films don’t get wide releases no matter their quality; thus an American remake is somewhat justified in order to get the story seen. However, Intouchables is the highest grossing non-English film in history, with $426 million of 2011 dollars. The film was clearly seen throughout the world, it was perhaps missed only in the US where studios are averse to distributing films with subtitles.
The film tries to stake a bit of an original footprint (such as changing the setting to New York instead of Paris), and although some scenes are taken identically from the French version, there are a handful of different takes. These would have been welcome if the new additions had added something new to the story, but it seemed that every change was for the worse, diluting some of the most nuanced moments of the 2011 film. The story seems oversimplified and subtle moments become blunt; some mysterious details from the original are unnecessarily given a backstory, and even the supporting characters that were so livid in the French version fade away in this new telling.
My only recommendation after watching The Upside is to simply watch the 2011 version; it is ten times better in the dramatic and comedic moments. The Hollywood stars filling the shoes in this remake prove to be commendable enough, but the faulty changes made along with an inability to bring anything new to this story make this film a frustrating and forgettable experience. The only salvation for this film would be for those who are somehow repulsed at watching a film with subtitles; this is the film for you. Let’s hope that Roma wins the Best Picture Oscar to prove to American studios and audiences that their pickiness is ridiculous (it would be the first foreign-language film to do so).