“The Upside,” a genuine drama with comedic undertones released in 2019, was captivating and captured the mind with the story of an unlikely friendship between a down on his luck parolee, Dell (played by Kevin Hart), and a wheelchair-bound billionaire, Phillip (played by Bryan Cranston). The film offers an emotional narrative. However. it cannot escape the cloud of controversy that surrounds the casting of an able-bodied actor as a quadriplegic character. In this reviiew I want to dig into the casting choice, character transformations, and the inability of some to comprehend and empathize with the challenges of living with a disability.
From the beginning, the predominant controversy regarding “The Upside” focused on the casting of Bryan Cranston as Phillip, a quadriplegic character. The decision began a heated debate around the opportunities and representation of disabled actors in Hollywood. Critics argued that these kinds of roles should be reserved for actors with disabilities, as they possess firsthand experience which enables them to authentically portray the depth and complexity of the character. Bryan Cranston’s portrayal, while professional, arguably lacked the palpable nuances that an actual quadriplegic actor could have brought, resulting in a prominent question: was Cranston the right choice for this role? While watching the film I found myself being entranced in the story and not thinking about whether or not he was actually a disabled actor. I understand people wanting more genuine disabled actors being represented in film. However, I felt that he did a good job and should not have been given the criticism that befell him after his performance.
As “The Upside” unfolds, we don’t know exactly the transformation Dell played by Kevin Hart will take. However, as the movie goes on, we see how compassionate Dell can be and the depth to which he can understand another person’s situation. Dell’s employment as a caretaker for Phillip enables him to learn and change, gain perspective on his own life, and cultivate a commendable sense of loyalty to his employer. Kevin Hart infuses his role with both humor and humanity, showcasing the expanse of his acting capabilities and skill.
One of the most touching scenes in the movie occurs when Phillip – interested in a romantic relationship has lunch with a woman he has been communicating with. As the interaction goes on the woman decides that she cannot handle the situation and leaves Philip. Some would look at that scene and think it’s terrible that the woman left. However, some people aren’t strong enough to handle it and I understand that. This moment underlines a crucial message within the film: society’s general lack of understanding and empathy towards those who live with disabilities. It sparks a dialogue around the habit of reducing individuals to their disabilities, rather than recognizing them as sophisticated human beings.
Dell’s unwavering support and respect for Phillip are highlighted through various instances where he loyally defends his friend. Standing up against those who may doubt or ridicule Phillip’s capabilities, Dell demonstrates a willingness to challenge society’s preconceptions around disability, a task that proves pivotal to his emotional growth throughout the movie. “The Upside” tells a touching tale of empathy, transformation, and the power of resilience, with Kevin Hart delivering what I can only call my favorite performance from him I have ever seen. The movie serves as a poignant reminder that the journey towards broader acceptance for those living with disabilities is far from over – both on and off the screen.