The Upside

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
The Upside Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Charming Hart/Cranston disability dramedy glorifies pot use.
  • PG-13
  • 2019
  • 125 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 13 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 10 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Find the positive when life turns negative -- or even tragic. Establishing a friendship with someone from a different walk of life can open up new perspectives. Money doesn't buy happiness. Recognize and encourage potential in others. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Main character is a quadriplegic, and film gives understanding, compassion to struggles of those with disabilities. Having a rich white man hire an incompetent black ex-con is a straight-up stereotype -- but in this case, this film is based on a true story. The two men develop a friendship that gives both insight into and empathy for each other's situational struggles and leads to personal growth. 


A character wants to die; he doesn't try suicide but rather doesn't want to be resuscitated. Objects are broken in anger, which is depicted positively. Characters do potentially dangerous things like speeding and parasailing.


A woman is briefly shown in a close-up in the throes of passion. A couple of suggestive scenes revolve around inserting a catheter; the humor is derived from one character's discomfort with anatomical needs. Two women appear to be prostitutes but give pleasure in an innocent way. Main character sexually harasses a female co-worker for laughs. A subplot explores a potential romance.


Language includes "s--t," "ass," "bulls--t," "damn," "goddamn," "hell," "piss off." The film's ability to imply rather than actually use crass language is impressive.


Part of the movie's message is that money can't buy happiness, but that may not be the takeaway, since wealth gains the characters second chances and respect, as well as drool-worthy fine art, expensive cars, and experiences. Ferrari seen/showcased; "Alexa" is called upon several times to play music.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Marijuana is smoked on-camera and depicted as a way to have more fun and feel better; it's used as a tool for bonding and establishing friendship, all with no consequences. Adults drink wine, alcohol is given as a party gift. Adults smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Upside is a dramedy starring Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston about the unlikely friendship between a quadriplegic billionaire and a felon hired to care for him. It's based on the French film The Intouchables, which itself was based on a true story. The characters start out as stereotypes -- wealthy older white man grants opportunity to black ex-con -- but, through their friendship, the story develops insight into and empathy for their struggles. Parents may not love that drug use is what initially bonds the main characters: Smoking pot is depicted as fun, funny, bonding, helpful, medicinal, and consequence-free. The two characters grow closer by engaging in other dangerous behavior, too: smashing expensive items, speeding in fast cars, being chased by police, and parasailing. Regular swearing includes "s--t," "goddamn," and more, but the dialogue is slyer about sexual situations. Adults will understand what's being implied with the genitalia jokes, but innocent ears likely won't put it all together (although the word "porno" is used for comic effect, and a woman is briefly shown in a close-up in the throes of passion). The movie's messages are about normalizing disability and discovering positive, life-changing opportunity amid tragedy; viewers are also exposed to art, opera, and poetry.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byCheech27 July 1, 2019

Great movie

Touching movie. It does show drug use but as a whole it shows real life and the change that can happen when someone cares. Loved it!
Parent Written byAdam S. June 10, 2019
Funny, moving, good acting.
Kid, 11 years old April 28, 2020

Cute movie, a real tear jerker

Cute movie, a real tear jerker. Parents Beware: A couple sex jokes, some depressing stuff, and shows some stuff from a not-so-great kid of town.
Teen, 13 years old Written byeggyboi August 9, 2019

Great Movie

There are a lot of sexual innuendoes and scenes where we can assume that one of the characters were having sex, but no real nudity is shown. Overall a pretty gr... Continue reading

What's the story?

In THE UPSIDE, Dell (Kevin Hart, in a more serious role than usual) is struggling to find a job after getting out of prison. He meets Phillip (Bryan Cranston), a quadriplegic billionaire who's looking for a caregiver. Although the two come from very different worlds, they strike up a friendship -- and mutual respect.

Is it any good?

This charming, based-on-a-true-story dramedy will appeal to audiences who know and love its stars -- and it makes a point of showing viewers how to better treat people with disabilities. Unfortunately, normalizing disability may be easier said than done; as the movie reflects, well-intentioned people can awkwardly muck up attempts to be kind and instead project pity, while others find it easier to just ignore the disabled. An example is clearly needed, and The Upside aims to offer just that by showing, rather than telling, when it comes to being an example of inclusion and understanding.  

But there is a downside. The film embraces clichés. A poor black man's life is changed for the better by a rich white man. A Harvard-educated woman (played by Nicole Kidman) abandons her career because of her compassionate nature. And race and class divisions are bridged thanks to smoking pot. The film more or less indoctrinates viewers into the belief that marijuana makes everything better, which is an interesting choice, considering that the pot scenes are Hollywood creations -- unlike some of the film's other iffy material, which stems from reality (the real duo who inspired the film did make a game of speeding and then tricking police). While the film wasn't made for kids, those behind it seem to be aware that kids will likely see it -- hence the clever dialogue and camera work that dance around sexual implications so that nothing inappropriate actually occurs. Bottom line? The film amuses, entertains, and educates, and viewers are likely to exit the theater on a high note, but it may also inadvertently encourage younger viewers to go get high.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the need for diversity, inclusion, and representation in the media. Why are those things important? In what ways do you see yourself represented in pop culture? Do you notice specific groups of people being shut out of representation in TV, movies, and books? How can that be changed?

  • How is marijuana use depicted in The Upside? Is it glamorized? Are there any consequences? Why is that important?

  • Which characters act with compassion and empathy? Why are those important character strengths?

  • Do you know anyone with a disability? Is that person treated differently? How would you like people to interact with you if you had a disability?

  • Dell is teased because he doesn't want to say the word "penis." Why do you think that embarrasses him? Is it OK to be teased for something like that?

Movie details

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