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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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/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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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 the disabled. 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 nothing inappropriate actually occurs. Bottom line? The film amuses, entertains, and educates, and the 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?
Do you know anyone with a disability? Are they 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?
- In theaters: January 11, 2019
- Cast: Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, Kevin Hart
- Director: Neil Burger
- Studios: STX Entertainment, Lantern Entertainment
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Friendship
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Empathy
- Run time: 125 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: suggestive content and drug use
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