FilmSpace: Glass; The Upside

Calum Cooper

Film critic Calum Cooper looks back at some of the week’s additional releases, including the anticipated final film in M. Night Shyamalan’s superpowers trilogy, and a remake of a well-known French film

Glass – ★★☆☆☆

M. Night Shyamalan has had a fascinating career. He’s made a plethora of movies that have all come purely from passion. Some are good (The Sixth Sense), some are bad (The Happening), and some are ugly (The Last Airbender). Yet, when Shyamalan is on his A-game, he’s one of the most innovative minds working in the industry. I respect the hell out of him.

However, he suffers from a recurring problem. Throughout his career, Shyamalan’s ideas have walked a perilous tightrope between clever and stupid. I commend him for having the boldness to walk such a line. But when he stumbles and goes plummeting into the abyss of stupid, it’s often because he cannot get out of his own way. His ideas take such priority that they diminish the film’s overall impact. And, unfortunately, Glass is an excellent example of this.

Glass completes what is being dubbed “the Eastrail 177 Trilogy” with two of Shyamalan’s other films, Unbreakable and Split, both of which I really liked. Bruce Willis returns as David Dunn, a man with superhuman strength and immunity, who has begun hunting James McAvoy’s The Horde, the villain from Split, who has 24 different personalities fighting for control of his body, the most aggressive being an animalistic personality known as The Beast. After 20 minutes of this, both are captured and sent to a psychiatric facility run by Dr Ellie Staples (Sarah Paulson). The facility also houses Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price, or Mr. Glass, the surprise villain of Unbreakable, who has fragile bones but an unbeatable mind. Dr Stables has three days to convince them that their perceived superpowers are mere delusions brought on by a fascination with comic books, something the characters have to question for themselves. Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlayne Woodard, and Spencer Treat Clarke also return from previous entries.

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Okay, so what do I like about Glass? The acting is very solid, particularly Samuel L. Jackson and James McAvoy, with everyone, except Bruce Willis oddly enough, melding into their characters well. I also admired Shyamalan’s attempts to recreate comic book visuals, such as emphasised pink walls in the facility and various shot techniques, even if some, such as POV, are overused. As for the central concept of the film, that supposed superpowers and inner gifts could be a mere fantastical fabrication, I have some gripes with it, but there are interesting ideas within that could’ve been explored further had the film been standalone rather than the conclusion to a trilogy.

The problem with Glass is that the storyline is too hollow to support such ideas. It’s obvious that Shyamalan has thought a lot about theme, but in attempting to dissect it, he leaves the story and characters behind. It’s a shame because, for the first 20 or so minutes, I was really digging the film. When we get to the facility however, it slows down to a crawl, to the point where I unintentionally dozed off in the middle of the screening.

Shyamalan has said in interviews that he was partially inspired by Miloš Forman’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which I agree with him is a terrific film. But the brilliance of Cuckoo’s Nest came from the power struggle between McMurphy and Ratched, as the rebellious free spirit and wicked authority figure fought for control, a common theme in many of Forman’s Czech and American films. There’s no such relationship or dynamic here. Dr Staples tells the three men that they’re deluded, and either they agree with her or they don’t, with scattershot moments of self-doubt thrown in between. As such, the story feels rather uneventful, playing out more like an overwritten dissertation than a flowing narrative, with Shyamalan’s Meta-style dialogue on comic book references and tropes becoming awkwardly irritating after a while.

The problem with Glass is that the storyline is too hollow to support such ideas. It’s obvious that Shyamalan has thought a lot about theme, but in attempting to dissect it, he leaves the story and characters behind.

On top of that, while The Horde and Mr Glass are both very interesting, key characters from previous films feel discarded. David Dunn’s inclusion is all but forgotten once he’s incarcerated, with Willis sleepwalking through much of the film afterwards. But this feeling is more apparent with Anya Taylor-Joy’s character, Casey. She was the main character of Split, but she’s given almost nothing to do here. She, as well as Clarke and Woodard, are mostly side characters to the main trio, spending most of their time on the side-lines offering support, when they could’ve brought intriguing dynamics into the story had they had more screen time. It’s such a waste of talent, especially of Anya Taylor-Joy’s.

Because of the underdeveloped story and characters, many of the film’s eventual conclusions and emotional beats don’t feel earned. This is true of the ending, and especially of Shyamalan’s signature twist. He is the master of this technique, both for better and for worse depending on the film. Yet, this is the first twist of his that I saw coming from a mile away, if you discount Last Airbender since it’s based on my favourite show. You can tell what’s going to happen the moment a certain character is introduced, and it seems to exist purely to set up the ultimate conclusion, which in itself feels out of nowhere at best and arguably contradictory to the film’s main theme at worst.

Add it all up and the experience equates to an underwhelming loss of potential. It’s a huge disappointment given my enthusiasm for the two previous entries. Nevertheless, I don’t hold it against Shyamalan. He’s come a long way since the dark days of Last Airbender, and I hope he continues to glean the creative realms of his mind. But he needs to know when to rein himself in, as theme becomes null and void without great story and characters to assist it.

The Upside – ★★☆☆☆

I went into The Upside incredibly apprehensive. It’s a remake of a French film, The Intouchables, or Untouchable as it was called here, which was a gargantuan hit in mainland Europe, but was considered polarising by British audiences. This was largely in part due to its premise, something this film replicates. Having now seen it, it’s nowhere near as bad as I feared, but that doesn’t mean I’m endorsing it. It’s perfectly fine, all things considered, but it’s still far too mechanical for my tastes.

Based on a true story, The Upside stars Kevin Hart as Dell Scott, a recently released convict. He’s estranged from his ex-girlfriend and son, and is in need of work. He attends an interview with Nicole Kidman and Bryan Cranston’s Philip Lacasse, a quadriplegic who was left paralysed after a paragliding accident. Scott’s interview is for the role of carer to Lacasse, a job Scott has no intention of taking on. Yet, Lacasse hires Scott for his unconventional approaches, despite being the least qualified person there. As Scott cares for Lacasse a friendship starts to blossom between the two.

It feels wrong to bash the film for certain shortcomings, such as its  simplified handling of its subject matter, as I’m aware that its French counterpart was guilty of those things too. But a lot of what made The Intouchables work for many viewers was the chemistry of the leads, Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy. They had such synergy that audiences were more forgiving of the film’s focus on the sentimentality over the serious elements that could’ve been explored.

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That’s not to say that Hart and Cranston don’t have chemistry. They also have moments that are surprisingly wholesome. This is mainly when Lacasse’s disability is glanced over and the two of them are just talking about random topics, whether it be ice-cream or weed, two words I never thought I’d place in the same sentence together. It genuinely feels like a strong, natural friendship in those scenes.

But too often it leans into the more clichéd elements of the story. Scott is the screw-up who means well, but learns to take on responsibility the more he hangs out with Lacasse, who comes off as privileged but actually has a heart of gold. Cue in mundane comedy, potential romance, and a fallout out scene to set up conflict for the last third, and you can predict literally every single thing that happens.

Furthermore, I don’t think the characters are well-written enough to overcome these tropes. Scott is thoroughly unlikeable in the first third, as nothing the film does suggests that we should in anyway sympathise, or even empathise, with his behaviour or situation. This does improve, as the film continues and Scott polishes his act, but he still feels like a generic template of a character. This is the case for Lacasse even more so, as he’s almost entirely defined by his disability. There are occasional moments where we see deeper into his psyche and insecurities around people. But many of those scenes are so half-baked in terms of writing that they don’t have nearly the effect they should. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s insensitive, but there are far better ways to address matters such as this.

I’m not sure what else I can properly analyse or discuss here. Nothing about the directing or cinematography stood out to me, and the musical score was pretty typical for its chosen story. I’ve heard some call it a feel-good film, and I guess it fits the bill in that regard. If you find yourself moved by this then more power to you of course. But, personally, I can’t see myself watching it again.