Upside Down (2012) / Romance-Sci Fi

MPAA rated: Not rated, but probably PG for some violence
Length: 107 min.

Cast: Jim Sturgess, Kirsten Dunst, Timothy Spall, James Kidnie
Director: Juan Diego Solanas
Screenplay: Santiago Amigorena, Juan Diego Solanas
Review published December 24, 2012

Upside Down 2012 Dunst SturgessAlthough the story plays out amid the backdrop of a mysterious, metaphorical universe, at the heart of Upside Down is a fairly traditional romance featuring two star-crossed lovers who must traverse some rather unique boundaries in order to be together.

In the peculiar universe of Upside Down we don't have Earth, but rather, twin Earthlike planets, one directly on top of the other, close enough to nearly touch at the poles.  Although each planet is similar in many respects, each planet has its own set of rules on gravity, such that, anyone and anything from one planet is always governed by the laws of gravity of the planet of their birthThe upper planet has other differences as well, as it has become a wealthy, corporate state, sucking out resources from the much poorer planet below, then selling that energy back to them.  People of the two spheres are not permitted to inhabit their opposite, and matter taken from one into the other (dubbed "inverse matter") will eventually start to burn up, save for the pollen of the pink bees which inhabit both worlds. 

Jim Sturgess (21, The Other Boleyn Girl) stars as Adam, a young man from the lower planet, who winds up climbing as high has he can in the mountainous are that is deemed off-limits near the home of his Aunt Becky.  It is there he gets close enough to see and talk to a young girl from the other planet named Eden (Dunst, On the Road), forming a fast, unusual, and highly forbidden friendship, and eventually a courtship.  But things go awry, as they are caught, with Adam getting shot and Eden "falling" back to her world with a nasty blow to the head that Adam thinks is fatal.  It would be the last time they saw each other, until...

Ten years later we find Adam using the pink pollen his Aunt introduced him too through formulas in her journal in order to work on an anti-aging cream.  On the TV, Adam sees a sight he never thought he'd see again, Eden, who now happens to work in the Transworld corporate tower that exists between he two worlds.  Using his knowledge of the bees to pitch the anti-aging cream, Transworld ends up hiring his services to develop it further, putting him in the same building as Eden, though several floors, and one major gravitational obstacle, below.  But that won't stop the crafty young lad from devising a way to break through the barriers that stand between them, except perhaps for the amnesia Eden suffered from her nasty spill 10 years prior.

With due respect to the ill-fated lovers storyline that will obviously have a strong appeal among the romantics in the audience, it is the often stunning visuals that are the real appeal of Upside Down, not only in the way the gravitational qualities are played out with people inhabiting both the top and bottom of the same frame, but there is a beauty and majesty to the outdoor environs that is beautiful in and of itself to behold, with its stark, mountains, towering trees, and oceans of clouds that separate the space between the two planets.  The indoor scenes pop out nearly as well, though, as colorful, opulent cafes from up above contrast with the monochromatic patchwork junkyards that exist in the ghetto world below. Cute scenes, such as people drinking from cocktail glasses upside down keeps the tone playful and interesting, even when the main story at large can feel rather silly.    

Part of the reason the romantic storyline does feel silly comes through the rather scant characterizations given to Adam and Eden.  Sturgess does the best he can to infuse oodles of personality and energy into Adam, which might seem cute to those who adore shaggy-haired Sturgess making goo-goo eyes, but more often he comes across like a junkie either just indulging in his last fix, or looking for his next one.  Dunst doesn't do nearly as much in her own role other than smile and look sweet (she does get to engage yet again in a rare cinematic upside-down kiss, a la Spider-Man), and if the two lovers are supposed to be from separate worlds, the lack of actual romantic chemistry between Sturgess and Dunst would suggest they could also be from separate movies.

While Upside Down maintains a modest appeal throughout, the ending appears to be forced and unsatisfactorily hurried, with a voiceover by Sturgess that does little to tie up the many loose story threads, suggesting a possible rewrite or reshoot for the sake of audience appeal.  I won't spoil what that ending is except to state that it seems to most of the dystopian, anti-corporate commentary superfluous.  If the only storyline worth caring about is whether or not the two lovers can find a way to co-exist, why spend so much time exploring the much larger world(s) and its ills? (One presumes that writer-director Juan Diego Solanas (Northeast), a filmmaker from Argentina, is using the twin worlds metaphor to describe the socioeconomic dichotomy that exists between the northern and southern hemispheres on Earth).

Upside Down
will have its audience, primarily among those who enjoy dreamy romance storylines that traverse sizable physical and metaphysical obstacles in order to be requited (Twilight's popularity would suggest there are plenty in this category).  Those going into it for the science fiction aspects will likely find much of the backstory of the two worlds interesting, even if they defy any definition of actual physics (the monumentally implausible premise may sink the film early for those who cannot suspend disbelief), but ultimately, it's not what the film is really about, so many may find it to be a bit gimmicky.  Nevertheless, Solanas's vision is ambitious, if not his execution, so the movie is worthwhile for those interested in the subject matter who don't have lofty expectations of a Matrix or Inception caliber experience.  It's a simple so-sweet-it's-corny romance in a gorgeous techno-coated shell.
Qwipster's rating:

©2012 Vince Leo