Seeing Both Sides of ‘The Upside’

Leah Leilani avatar

by Leah Leilani |

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The Upside

Spoiler alert: This column reveals some plot details of the newly released film “The Upside.”

All over the world, members of the disabled community are discussing the recently released movie “The Upside,” featuring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart. The movie has generated much controversy because Cranston is an able-bodied actor playing a disabled person.

Before outrage over the casting decision flooded social media, I already had decided I wanted to see the movie. Its trailer is hilarious and intriguing. So, off to the theater I went, knowing that I would write a review of the film afterward. 

“The Upside” tells the story of two completely different people: a white billionaire (Phillip) who is a quadriplegic, and an unemployed African-American parolee (Dell). Their journey begins when Dell looks for a job and is hired to be Phillip’s caregiver. As the story develops, what began as a professional relationship grows into a friendship. The two men help each other through rough periods in life and demonstrate that there are still beautiful and joyous things to experience. 

I found this movie to be incredibly endearing and entertaining. The bond between Dell and Phillip reminded me of the relationships I have with my friends. Finding a person you just click with and who brightens your life is what everyone searches for; someone who doesn’t see your disability, but rather the person you are. Instead of being awkward toward the situation, Dell and Phillip constantly crack jokes about Phillip’s circumstances.

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One great example of this is a scene in which Dell must change Phillip’s catheter. It was clearly one of the less enjoyable tasks for Hart’s character. Yet, they got through the situation together, albeit with a lot of sexual humor. 

With segregation plaguing our society, it felt refreshing to watch a movie that wasn’t based on the social issues in the news. Although Dell and Phillip come from two completely different backgrounds, they both were able to look past their differences and treat each other like human beings. Neither judged the other because of their obvious differences. 

To be honest, I think Cranston did a good job portraying a quadriplegic. I could tell that he put time and effort into playing the part to the best of his ability. I think that as an actor, he isn’t required to have the same attributes as the character. Producers want big-name actors to bring publicity to their films.

I don’t know if Cranston was chosen over other actors who are disabled. I do, however, wish that there had been more effort to make him look like a quadriplegic. In “Avatar,” makeup and prosthetics were used to make Sam Worthington’s legs appear atrophied. To have the actor in “The Upside” remain looking like an able-bodied person in a wheelchair gives the impression that disabled people’s bodies are undesirable. 

I can easily understand both perspectives of this controversy. Those of us with disabilities want an accurate representation of our lives. If there is a misrepresentation, how are people supposed to gain an understanding of our predicaments? On the flip side, I agree that acting is about being someone you’re not to entertain and tell a story. 

I tend to stay away from political and social conflict. Nonetheless, in this case, I thought my perspective of the movie might be something others would find interesting. 

Have you seen “The Upside”? What did you think? Share in the comments below.


Note: Muscular Dystrophy News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.


Mary Heale avatar

Mary Heale

I haven't seen the movie ... yet. Definitely plan to. However, my husband is disabled and became so later in life due to a "crushed C4." He doesn't look disabled but he came out of his surgery an incomplete quad. He learned to walk with a walker but can only go about 30 feet at a time. IOW:not all disabled people look alike either.

Leah Leilani avatar

Leah Leilani

Hi there Mary. Thank you for reading my article. I completely agree with your comment. I myself am not a quadriplegic but I do use a wheelchair and don’t look disabled either.


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