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The Tortured Release Tale of 'The Upside' Starring Kevin Hart

The French film remake has faced an uphill battle toward release on January 11, 2019.

The Upside starring Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston opens nationwide this weekend, and there is much that we know thus far about this film. Not the least of which is the ongoing controversy surrounding Kevin Hart and his unceremonious (literally) departure from hosting the Academy Awards. When Hart was announced as the host last year, Twitter users began reposting homophobic tweets that the actor and comedian had posted years earlier.

The controversy led to Hart exiting as host and the controversy seemingly came to a minor close, save for the upcoming release of The Upside, during which Hart was undoubtedly going to have some questions to answer. Instead, Ellen Degeneres completely waylaid the film’s publicity push by asking Kevin Hart to reconsider hosting the Oscars. Ellen spoke as if she were speaking for all of Hollywood and the LGBTQ community—only to quickly find out on social media that she most certainly did not.

During his appearance on Ellen, Hart said he would think about returning to the job as host, which revived the controversy. Hart then had to once again state that he would not host the Oscars out of not wanting to be a distraction. That said, this controversy and Hart’s seeming non-apology apologies—in which he insists on having grown up and become a better person since he posted those tweets, while not distancing himself from those remarks with a legit apology—have left The Upside buried under the controversy.

So buried is the film, in fact, that only now after three paragraphs of unpacking can we finally begin to discuss the film: The Upside. The film is based on a French film called The Intouchables, which earned acclaim in 2011, and even more money than acclaim. The film is the highest grossing film in French history, having earned more than 444 million dollars at the box office. The film was the top grossing movie in France for 10 straight weeks, as rare a feat in France as it is here in the US.

The premise has a man named Driss become an unlikely caregiver to a paraplegic rich man named Phillippe. Driss may not have any experience, but Philippe enjoys his company and especially enjoys how Driss does not pity him. The two bond, break away from each other over a misunderstanding, and come back together in a plot that is rather predictable, but in a very feel-good fashion. That film was based on a true story that was told in a French documentary A la Vie, A la Mort, which translates to English, "For Better or Worse." The documentary was released in 1995 to modest acclaim of its own.

The remake rights for The Intouchables were snatched up by the Weinstein Company in 2012, and initially, Colin First was to play Phillippe—or now Phillip—with Chris Rock, Jamie Foxx, and Idris Elba each considered for the role of Driss, Americanized to Dell. Writer an director Paul Feig, fresh off the success of Bridesmaids was in line to direct the project, but it did not get off the ground. Feig dropped out in 2013 to make The Heat and he was replaced by Ace Ventura director Tom Shadyac.

At that time, Chris Tucker was in line to play Dell with Colin Firth, remaining attached as Phillip. That changed in 2014 when Kevin Hart, hot from his hit stand up tour and the release of the January hit Ride Along, became attached in early 2014. The film stalled again while Hart was busy making About Last Night and a sequel to his hit movie Think Like a Man. Shadyac and Firth eventually dropped out and the film languished until 2016.

In 2016 Love Actually director Simon Curtis appeared ready to move forward with the film, but then departed over the script. The script was then rewritten from the screenplay that Paul Feig had adapted in 2012 by screenwriter Jon Hartmere. After Curtis departed, director Neil Burger took on the project following his successful run with the Showtime television series Billions. Bryan Cranston boarded the project and the film actually looked to be ready for awards season of 2017 until…

Remember how I said that the Weinstein Company had purchased the remake rights? Well, awards season 2017 was followed by the beginnings of the #MeToo movement, and the end of Weinstein Company CEO Harvey Weinstein. The company eventually collapsed under the weight of Weinstein’s crimes, and while the film was able to be shown at the Toronto Film Festival in 2017—to a mixed and muted critical reaction—the loss of the distributor sent the film into limbo.

It would take several months for distributor STX Entertainment to purchase the film and set a release date. Many had thought that the film would be released in December of 2018 in time for the feel-good Holiday season. Then Hart’s Oscar controversy broke and this seemingly cursed property became snake bit once more. The film currently has a 55 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 11 reviews, mostly from the forgotten festival release in 2017. Whether The Upside is being shown to critics this week or not is still not known.

Sean Patrick
Sean Patrick

I have been a film critic for more than 17 years and worked professionally, as a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association for the past 6 years. My favorite movie of all time is The Big Lebowski because it always feels new. 

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