The Upside

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Upside

The Upside almost sinks in an intense and overlong introduction to its characters. That done, the actors calm down and act the roles they have been handed while we in the audience have at last become interested in them. When this happens, this cast delivers.

Bryan Cranston creates Phillip Lacasse a billionaire who became a quadriplegic during an accident while indulging in the sport he loved – hang gliding. The actor faces the challenge of acting the whole movie from a wheelchair where he must create all his moods and conversations with just his voice, facial muscles and his eyes. Nothing else moves. Over the course of the story, he creates a man of intelligence, acceptance, kindness and humor. Doing that without moving a muscle is quite an achievement.

Unable to do even one thing for himself, Phillip needs a man who will take full emotional and physical care of him for the rest of his life. As he interviews a long line of applicants for that job, he is drawn – for reasons we will learn later – to the thoroughly inexperienced Dell Scott (Kevin Hart). Against all advice, Phillip chooses Dell who appears to be the worst possible choice as caregiver to a quadriplegic. But as each shares things he knows the other needs, trust and friendship grow in the two men and in the audience.

The first half hour plus the premise are not promising. After that, settle in and enjoy watching some good actors make that improbable premise work in a way you don’t expect. How? There’s not a flawed performance. Nicole Kidman’s Yvonne, who runs Phillip’s business for him, is loyal and never overdone. Kidman has an instinctive sense of what might be too much or too little and she creates a fine character who we watch carefully for subtlety. Julianna Margulies appears for a short, sharp few moments in a role that’s tough to play given the situation.

If you are trying to decide whether to see a movie about a quadriplegic and his caretaker, it would be easy to imagine a downer of an evening. Don’t do that. Because of the performances there is a lot of laughter here, all delivered for our pleasure in a way that is thoroughly natural rather than contrived.

Both Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston do something that is unusual and extremely moving: each finds a way to contribute something major to the other’s life. There have been several movies this year that are rooted in tough truth that bring a fine gift to the audience. This is one of them. On this particular team of director Neil Burger and his cast, every one of them creates an interesting individual. Once again, because of strong, quiet talent, a sleeper of a movie surprises and moves its audiences. And yes, you are likely to tell people you’ve just seen a quadriplegic and a down and out street walker create great pleasure for audiences.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : The Upside
Word Count : 497
Running Time : 2:06
Rating : PG-13
Date : February10, 2019


This review was posted on February 10, 2019, in Comedy, Drama.

Stan & Ollie

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Stan & Ollie

Writing about Stan and Ollie is a many faceted challenge. Will audiences respond to the humor they peddled with such huge success starting in 1937? What are the ages in the audiences now loving this movie? It’s great fun to report that director Jon S. Baird as done a beautiful job of directing. The score is just right, and the actors have caught the mood of their characters and their time with great skill.

Stan (Steve Coogan) and Ollie (John C. Reilly) have only memories of the packed houses who roared with laughter at their early acts. The movie begins sixteen years later with a few people scattered through empty seats as the two are about to leave for England where Stan has arranged a performance date. As they play to mostly empty theaters, their mood begins to sink even more than it had in America. The two men who had delighted crowds for years are learning slowly that their time is over. The affection of the public who loved them has evaporated with changing times.

Melodrama might easily have ruined this story. Instead, we soak up their love of performing, their love of each other, and the lingering memories in their public. All this unfolds as they begin to realize that as they have grown old, they have become unfamiliar to audiences. Audience tastes have changed. Their gradual realization of all this is sad because it is done so beautifully by director and actors. Repeatedly we in the audience are behind the two as they play to nearly empty houses.

Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly play Stan and Ollie with extraordinary subtlety as the two men begin to understand their time is over. No grandstanding here, just a quiet, mostly unspoken realization as they perform their old winning tricks before a few people who still appreciate them. These two performances, set against just right music and without melodrama are moving audiences in unexpected ways. It is the portrait of two men in career decay who want terribly not to stop.

Add to that two quietly moving performances by two loyal wives who arrive in London to follow their husbands in their slow and sad descent. Lucille (Shirley Henderson) and Ida (Nina Arianda) squelch the reality of their husbands’ sadness while becoming instead a caring, supportive team. Of the four who create these couples, each one becomes understanding of talent outdistanced by time, of new generations absorbed by new kinds of music.

Another gift from the makers of this movie is the reality of what happens when successful performers stay beyond the changing culture. We have learned more about the thrill of roaring appreciation that keeps actors going as well as how it decays as times change. And we are given a deeply moving portrait of what it must be like for hugely successful performers to face empty houses as they face lives of old age outside the theater.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Stan and Ollie
Word Count : 502
Running Time: 1:38
Rating : PG