Kevin Hart, “The Upside” offer American twist on a true story

By RON WYNN | Nashville Voice

It’s a shame that Kevin Hunt’s finest film performance in many months has been almost obscured by the ongoing controversy over his pulling out as Oscar host after eight-year-old remarks about gay people—which he previously apologized for making—resurfaced.

Hart has found himself offering multiple mea culpas: first saying he wouldn’t apologize, then apologizing, then becoming defiant once more while others like Ellen Degeneres have lobbied to get him restored as Oscar host. The comedian and actor’s most recent word on that was he wouldn’t do it.

That Hart won’t be hosting the Oscars is another disappointment because if he displayed as Oscar host the character dimensions and personality that’s evident throughout “The Upside,” he would have been a great host.

Interestingly enough, “The Upside” has its own intriguing history, including the fact that it was supposed to debut in 2017, but got shelved when the Weinstein Company went bankrupt in early 2018. The company was subsequently purchased by STX Entertainment, which finally got it released.

Neil Burger has delivered an  American version of a 2011 film based on a true story. Philippe Lacasse was the son of a French duke, raised in privilege and disdainful of those he deemed inferiors.

But after a paragliding accident made him a quadriplegic, LaCasse discovered all his money meant nothing next to the crippling force of paralysis.

He attempted suicide but had his life turned around through interaction with Abdel Sellou, an Algerian immigrant and ex-con who was only doing a caretaker’s job because he needed employment to retain a French visa.

Phillipe eventually penned a best-selling memoir, “A Second Wind” in 2001, and it became the French film, “The Intouchables,” in 2011. In “The Upside,” Phillipe’s now a white billionaire (Bryan Cranston) who gets assigned an ex-con black caregiver (Hart).

While the script certainly contains the usual wisecracks and borderline tasteless jokes, it also tackles in clever ways compelling issues of class, race, and the twin impact of disability and aging.

It reverses the usual course of a white hero rushing to the rescue of a black man, first because Hart’s character doesn’t even want the job, and secondly becomes much more of a friend and comrade than someone trying to save anyone.

“The Upside” has its share of sentimentality and predictable moments and is far from a perfect film. However, it also offers revealing glimpses into how misfortune affects perspective, and how two men from totally different backgrounds can find common ground despite having so little in common.

Cranston has also had to deal with his share of negative publicity for the film, with disabled advocacy groups complaining his role should have been given to an actual quadriplegic actor.

Still, “The Upside” has surprised a lot of folks, doing much better at the box office than expected.

Despite — or maybe because of — all the negative publicity, Hart again demonstrates he has enormous commercial popularity with both mainstream and black audiences.

More importantly, he shows he has an emotional acting range that extends beyond the ability to mug and crack jokes on demand.

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