Feasting on Friendship
by Mary Scott Brisson
The Upside (2019) follows the story of an unlikely friendship between two individuals from opposite backgrounds. Dell Scott, parolee, miraculously lands a job working as a caretaker for Phillip Lacasse, a wealthy quadriplegic who lives in a multi-million dollar penthouse in New York City. The job provides Dell with a steady paycheck, proof to the court he is well functioning outside of prison, and an opportunity to reconnect with his ex and son. The unexpected duo become closer over the turbulent start to Dell’s new job, and a beautiful friendship unfolds that ultimately allows both individuals to grow and appreciate their lives despite their respective challenges.
Throughout the course of the film, food serves as a symbol of comfort, indulgence, and bonding experiences. Moreover, Dell and Phillip’s relationship with food highlights the contrast between the character’s backgrounds and identities. In one scene, Dell takes Phillip to a hole-in-the-wall hot dog restaurant to show Phillip his idea of a meal. The two order sixteen hot dogs between the two of them and enjoy them over lighthearted conversation about their careers. The scene turns out to be a major bonding moment when the cashier asks Dell what Phillip wants instead of Phillip himself, implying Phillip is incapable of ordering for himself because of his visible disabilities. Dell tells the cashier to ask Phillip himself, and Phillip later thanks him for doing so. He tells Dell he often feels invisible unless people know he has money. Dell reveals that he too feels invisible for other reasons like his race, lack of money, past, and ex-convict status. Despite their drastically different existences, the hot dog scene allows viewers to understand their similar experiences of invisibility within broader society. Moreover, the scene exemplifies how eating together serves as emotional nourishment for the two; the companionship that occurs during their shared mean becomes a source of emotional support for both of them.
As they continue to share meals as experiences, they begin to better understand one another and see each other’s perspectives. Furthermore, the duo’s food-based adventures demonstrate how the simple activities of cooking and eating are paramount in the development of strong relationships.
The Upside. Dir. Neil Burger. By Oliver Nakache and Éric Toledano. Perf. by Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, and Nicole Kidman. STX Entertainment, Amazon MGM studios, Lantern Entertainment, 2019. DVD.