This week I decided on a very different movie than Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse. As this blog develops, please know that I will be seeing and reviewing a wide variety of movies.
I am not the biggest Kevin Hart or Brian Cranston fan. Hart typically plays his over-excited self in everything, though I did enjoy Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. I never watched Breaking Bad, nor cared to, given that it is about making crystal meth (or whatever people are more popularly calling it these days). So why did I see The Upside? I don’t know. Because it was January 11th and I did not want to see Aquaman?
I am happy to report, though, that The Upside is worth a look. What sold me was the tenderness, shorn of schmaltz and hokeyness, with which Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) cares for the quadriplegic Phillip Lacasse (Brian Cranston). It truly was Christ-like, but I almost hesitated to use that word. When I say their relationship has that dynamic, you might think that it is stale and moralistic, and mostly what popular culture thinks of Christianity. Jesus consorted with sinners, remember. Dell Scott certainly fit that description, being an ex-convict, although that is not to suggest that Phillip Lacasse was God (despite his riches).
Their relationship, however, did cause some concern at various points in the film. Given the racialized culture we inhabit, there is something to be said of a so-called street-wise black guy (Dell Scott) serving the rich white guy (Brian Cranston). Here are two seemingly different worlds colliding and look what funny antics ensue. Yet why should it be so funny or strange that an African American would like opera (whether or not it is sung by Aretha Franklin)? On the other hand, are there not plenty of older white men who smoke weed? The film was a dramatic comedy (if that is a thing), so it was somewhat disappointing that it turned to obvious stereotypes for the majority of its comedy.
While I have my critic’s hat on, I would also add that there was an element of predictability. The stolen book early on, despite it not turning out as I originally thought, did play a significant role in an expected way. There was the inevitable firing so that both Scott and Lecasse could realize the strength of their friendship. There was also the mending of the strained relationship between Scott and his estranged son.
Having said all this, it should be emphasized that this film has heart. Of note is the oft-repeated phrase of Lecasse that, “I don’t feel anything.” On the contrary, he feels more than anyone else around him. His emotional, hyper-sensitivity covers for his like of physical feeling below the neck and in this way you understand the struggle of having to rely on others when you so clearly hate yourself for having to do so. Thus Scott’s self-giving love becomes redemptive, overcoming Lecasse’s hang-ups and (as a bonus) overshadowing the tired stereotypes of their relationship.