The Upside is based on a true story... sort of. The new movie (directed by Limitless' Neil Burger) follows ex-con Dell Scott (Kevin Hart), who becomes life auxiliary for depressed paraplegic Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston). As is typical in this sort of film, the pair learns a lot from the other they never knew, finding a new lease of life in the process. But given the typical feel-good nature, it may be surprising to learn with some final text stating Dell and Phillip remain friends to this day that The Upside is based on a true story.
Technically, The Upside is a remake of French film The Intouchables, with the action moved from Paris to New York. The 2011 release was a major hit in both its native country and in the US, earning an equivalent of $444.8 million worldwide and currently ranking at 40 on the IMDB Top 250. An English-language remake has been in the works pretty much since it exploded in popularity, with the likes of Chris Rock, Jamie Foxx, Idris Elba, Chris Tucker, Colin Firth, Jessica Chastain and Michelle Williams all linked at various points. The movie we got began to form in 2014 when Kevin Hart signed on. This means that, from a certain point of view, The Upside is a remake.
However, The Intouchables isn't an original story: it's based on the real-life memoirs of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his life auxiliary Abdel Sellou. This is what The Upside's ending hints at, and is evidently a bit misleading: two people like Phillip and Dell do exist, but they have different names and live on the other side of the world. So while it can be said The Upside is based on a true story, it is through the filter of another movie.
The Big Differences Between The Upside & The True Story
Despite the trans-Atlantic translation, The Upside contains a lot of real vignettes from Philippe and Abdel's life, mainly due to their presentation in The Intouchables (which Philippe advised on). The opening sequence of speeding through the city and using Phillip's disability to get out of a ticket was a favorite trick of the pair, Abdel did soup up his employer's wheelchair so it could go at 9mph, the pair did share joints, and Abdel did gain an appreciation of classical music. That said, some things, again brought over from the French movie, categorically didn't happen: Philippe's facial hair was never cut to look like Hitler, while the tea incident in the restaurant in The Upside nods to a fictional event in The Intouchables where Abdel tests out his employers lack of feeling with boiling water.
What's most interesting about The Upside (and its predecessor) is what it chose to omit. The biggest difference is that Philippe's wife didn't die of her cancer until after Abdel came into his life, with their relationship key to him preparing for and dealing with the grief. Both movies have his wife dead before the movie begins and a key motivator for the millionaire's apathy.
Putting aside the true story, there's still a lot of differences between The Upside and The Intouchables: in the French movie, Philippe has an adopted daughter, the relationship with his pen pal is more racked with trepidation (he doesn't turn up for their date, and an ending note is of the pair together), and Driss (Dell's name in the movie) is let go to focus on his family, not after an argument. However, at their core, the movies tell a very similar story in a very similar way.
The Upside isn't the only remake of The Intouchables that exists; there have been multiple Indian versions - Oopiri was released in both Tamil and Telugu languages, while a Bollywood version is in development - and an Argentinian, Spanish-language take Inseparables. Again, all of these can claim to be based on a true story yet are also transplanting the French original movie to a new location. The Upside really is a universal story.