So, The Upside is a thing. In its first weekend The Upside gross over $20 million in the United States, opening at the number one spot ahead of Aquaman. Whether or not this is all a good or bad thing is largely based on your relationship to The Intouchables, the 2011 French film that The Upside remade for its own creative and financial gain. (I would surmise that it was probably for financial gain as The Intouchables was a phenomenon in France and all around the world upon its release.)
When big ol’ Hollywood execs comes rolling in with their fat stacks and overly long cigars — at least that’s how they all look in my head — to remake a classic foreign film, film buffs scoff, wondering how the Earth could possibly continue to revolve around the sun on its orbit and not hurdle us towards our fiery demise. Admittedly, I’m one of those people on occasion, and those people are correct more often that not. (Don’t you dare remake The Guilty, Hollywood!). But in the case of The Intouchables and The Upside, I see two imperfect films that will find their own respective fan groups over time. So which version truly has the advantage here?
Let’s break it down, focusing on the key differences and similarities in each film:
Point 1: Necessity
The Intouchables is first, and because it was such a massive success filled with heartwarming characters that many still love today, it has a cultural hold that The Upside will probably never have. Not to mention that it essentially launched Omar Sy’s career to a whole new level to the point where he’s now a regular in many of Hollywood’s blockbusters.
To give you an idea of how successful The Intouchables was, at one point in time it was the highest grossing film in history to not have a U.S. release. (It would later earn over $10 million in the states when it finally had its theatrical run.) People LOVE this movie.
And that doesn’t mean that The Upside can’t have its own fair share of success. The Departed has become more popular than Infernal Affairs, after all. However, to remake a movie that was this popular, The Upside needed to make a few radical changes to the story or characters. Though it makes some welcomed alterations to the plot, it still feels all too similar to the original, giving off the feeling that it’s a tad unremarkable and unnecessary.
That’s one point for The Intouchables.
Point 2: Agency in Female Characters
One piece of The Intouchables that consistently bugged me was Driss’ (Sy) treatment of the women around him. Though he eventually forges sweet relationships with the female figures in the film, they’re only there for Driss to catcall and say lewd remarks to a majority of the time. The worst of which is the treatment of the Magalie character who seemingly only shows up for Driss to make a sexual advance only to leave and have the cycle repeat itself fifteen minutes later. It all culminates in an incredibly unfunny reveal that Magalie was a lesbian this entire time, and it was probably the sole reason that she disregarded his moves.
I think the screenwriters of The Upside noticed the problem with the female characters too. They rewrote the Yvonne character a tad to have much more of a purpose within the story. Though the brilliance of Nicole Kidman is still a tad underutilized, her character has a legitimate personality; she has no time for Dell’s BS. She’s stern, intelligent, and good-hearted. She actually does things!
Unfortunately, Kevin Hart’s Dell does resort to catcalling for the new personal trainer character — who this is The Upside‘s version of the Magalie character — but it’s a considerable improvement of the original, if still imperfect. An extra brownie point also goes to The Upside for having the woman with which Phil has an epistolary relationship be more than just a mostly unfamiliar face, she actually gets to share her feelings as well — even if they’re quite mean.
The Upside gets the nod!
Point 3: The Humor
A lot of the same humor set pieces in The Intouchables are repeated in The Upside, which also makes The Upside feel a bit stale. However, the biggest problem is the use of Kevin Hart in The Upside. It’s Kevin Hart, so he gets a few solid jokes in with his usual manic manner. Yet there’s five or six times where the camera will just linger on Hart as he improvs for minutes on end. Not only are these bits completely separate from the film and should have only been on the Blu-Ray as deleted scenes, but they go on for way too long. It’s agonizing at times, especially with a catheter joke that goes on approximately 897 minutes too long. The whole film feels a bit more juvenile and a little too safe.
The Intouchables rides the line of becoming mean-spirited at times which gives it a certain bite that The Upside fails to recreate. The humor also underscores the idea that Philippe is somewhat of a sad soul and needs a bit of a sadistic side in order to find the humor in life, all things considered. The film tips over that line often, but it’s good to know where that line is rather than the movie not even attempt to approach it.
This point is clearly more of a personal preference, but I still say The Intouchables FTW!
Point 4: Driss’ (or Dell’s) Side Plots
I’ve always found Driss’ backstory in The Intouchables a bit muddled. Granted, that’s part of the point as his family circumstances are meant to become a commentary on the reimagining of the nuclear family. Still, Driss merely explains his issues in one monologue and the film has only a few instances of him attempting to help his “brother.”
The Upside blows this section of the movie out by showing Dell going out of his way to attempt to make the lives of his now son and ex-wife better. After getting the job with Phil, Dell gets back up to date on his child support payments while putting his son and wife in a better home by the end of the film. It’s covered in schmaltz, but there’s a strong, genuine attempt to have Dell forge a relationship with his family and do right by them.
The Upside gets it here.
Point 5: The Core Relationship
This is a tough one, and it’s unquestionably the most important piece in how these two films stack up against each other. I think a lot of it comes from how these two movies are filmed. Though The Intouchables is unquestionably riddled with clichés, it’s filmed in a more down-to-earth manner with more handheld cameras, offering more grit and layers to these characters. The Upside is very Hollywood; everything is glossy and clean with extremely bright lighting and warm color filters. Even worse, The Upside has the gall to applaud itself by fading to black as the crowd cheers in the closing song. Don’t pat yourself on the back, movie.
I think both relationships are quite charming — and I think both films are worthy of your time as a result — but I found more subtlety in Omar Sy and François Cluzet’s friendship than in Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston’s. There’s a bit more meat on that bone, if you catch my drift.
The Intouchables sneaks by!
By my count, The Intouchables is the victor by score of 3-2 in my incredibly scientific analysis of the two films. So what does this mean for The Upside?
Well, it depends on who you ask. The immediate response towards a seemingly cynical cash-grab remake like The Upside is to bristle harder than Judge Smails the first time he sees Al Czervik. But in this case, I feel as if the two films form a unique partnership. The Upside attempted to rewrite a lot of the wrongs in The Intouchables, and I commend the attempt. Neither film is perfect, yet both are exceedingly cliché. I imagine that The Intouchables will remain the dominate of the two for simply being first, but I wouldn’t count out that The Upside develops a bit of a cult following among subtitle-averse movie fans that are looking for an uplifting tale.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on The Intouchables and The Upside? Comment down below!
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