But How Gay is ‘The Upside’?

In “But How Gay Is It?”, we seek to answer the biggest questions you have about a new movie release in theaters now — including, most crucially, the titular question. Does the movie have any queer characters? Are there stories involving same-sex lovers? Which gay icons star in the film? We’re bringing you all that and more.

What is The Upside? A remake of the 2011 French film The Intouchables, the much-less interestingly titled The Upside tells the story of unlikely friends Dell Scott and Phillip Lacasse. After a hang-gliding accident leaves him paralyzed from the neck down, Phillip needs a life auxiliary, and hates every single person his assistant Yvonne brings in for him. Dell Scott needs work — or, at least, signatures to show his parole officer he’s looking for work — and accidentally finds himself interviewing for the life auxiliary job. Phillip likes his DGAF attitude and hires him on the spot.

The rest of the movie follows their relationship, from Dell’s early days unable to perform even the simplest of life auxiliary tasks, to their disagreements about music. (Phillip likes opera, Dell prefers Aretha. They eventually find common ground.) Along the way, we see Phillip branch out into dating again following the passing of his wife, and Dell try to reforge a relationship with his young, sensitive son Anthony.

Who’s in it? Likely the only reason you’ve heard of The Upside, unless you’ve caught a trailer for it here or there, is because it’s the movie Kevin Hart was promoting during his infamous appearance on Ellen. He plays Dell, while former Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston plays Phillip. Nicole Kidman plays Yvonne, in a role entirely too small and one-note for an actress of her caliber. (Quite a few things in The Upside annoyed me, but this most of all.)

The rest of the cast is mostly filled with folks you know primarily from TV or supporting roles in films (Aja Naomi King! Tate Donovan!), but Julianna Margulies gets a big, juicy scene later in the movie. I won’t spoil it for those who do want to see The Upside — or, like, watch it on Netflix in six months and fast-forward to her scene — but it’s the only part of the movie that felt bracingly honest and painful in a real, earned way.

Why should I see it? Well, it’s based on a true story, so if you like a heartwarming true story, there’s that. But then again, you could just watch The Intouchables instead. So I’ve got nothing.

Here’s the thing: The Upside isn’t bad. It’s enjoyable enough to watch, if a bit emotionally manipulative. It mostly just isn’t anywhere near good enough to justify its own existence. Considering everything happening with Hart, it’s also hard to justify supporting him at the box office by buying a ticket. So this is overall a pass from me.

But how gay is it? Hoo boy. So it’s not gay, save Kidman and Margulies’ appearances (though again, the former really doesn’t get much to do). Moreover, a lot of Dell’s disgust early in his work is with physical contact with Phillip. There’s an extended scene in which he has to change Phillip’s catheter, and can’t even bring himself to say the word “penis.” I’m sure these scenes wouldn’t play well no matter what, but in light of Hart’s past homophobic jokes, they play all the worse.

Why is an adaptation of a onetime Best Foreign Language Film-shortlisted French film coming out in January instead of Oscar season? Again, it’s not great, so that’s part of it. But there’s also a messy development situation here. The Intouchables was first optioned for remake by The Weinstein Company back in 2011. Paul Feig came on to write and direct in 2012, with a whole score of interesting actors attached. Chris Rock, Chris Tucker, Jamie Foxx, and Idris Elba were all considered for Dell before Kevin Hart finally signed on in 2014. Colin Firth was set to play Phillip, and both Jessica Chastain and Michelle Williams were considered for the female lead (likely Yvonne).

The movie then went through three different directors, with Feig dropping out, then Tom Shadyac, then Simon Curtis. During these changes, Bryan Cranston came on as Phillip. Finally, in late 2016, final director Neil Burger came on, and Feig’s script was thrown out entirely. (Jon Hartmere wrote the script Burger used.) All of this is to say, this movie clearly went through development hell, including and especially being optioned by The Weinstein Company. (Their name does not appear on the final product.) It’s a wonder The Upside got made at all.

Will this movie make me feel any better about Kevin Hart? Nope! While his performance is fine enough, the hint of gay panic will only bolster your feelings about him if you’re aleady not a fan.

Does Hollywood need to stop offering Nicole Kidman thankless roles like this? They sure do.

The Upside is in theaters now.


 

Kevin O'KeeffeKevin O'Keeffe

Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer and 'RuPaul's Drag Race' herstorian. He covers film and TV for INTO, and writes the movie review column "But How Gay Is It?" every Friday.

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