UPSIDE DOWN Review

The concept of Upside Down is enough to intrigue anyone, but what that concept ultimately becomes is a bit of a let down in terms of what the synopsis and trailers seemingly promise. That isn't to say this is a bad film or that I'd accuse it of false advertising, but it is more The Notebook than Inception. When a film promises it will take place in a different solar system where two twin planets each with their own and opposite gravity causing a disruption between societies there is reason for a sci-fi fan to be excited and optimistic. More than simply societal differences, these two worlds are better compared to the Capulets and Montagues. It is an interesting thought, to take the star crossed lovers story and apply it to an original idea that might allow the functions and rules of a new universe to give bigger and fresh obstacles to our two protagonists, but the entire time I was watching this film it felt more like the makers had become so entranced and swept up in making sure the logistics of this world worked properly that they forgot how well (or not so well) they were developing their characters and the story they were trying to tell. It is easy to see how Upside Down might have been a roller coaster adventure as a novel or seemed absolutely engaging as a script (the thoughts of how this might all look being too ambitious an undertaking for the actors to turn down), but as it is delivered in a brief hour and forty-seven minutes the film never seems to find its footing and dig into where it could have gone until way too late. The narration from Jim Sturgess' Adam hints at the idea that writer and director Juan Solanas would like to make a few more films set in this universe, and I wouldn't mind venturing back, but before he does so he would need to make sure the story will be just as involving as the visuals.

Adam (Jim Sturgess) is looking to invent a revolutionary product.
Beginning when Adam (Sturgess) is just a young boy the film makes it immediately clear that his aunt Becky's flying pancakes made using purple pollen from a species of bees that are able to fly between both worlds. These can naturally only be found high up in the mountains which one day causes Adam to meet a young Eden (Kirsten Dunst) who lives in the world above him. Adam being from "down below" is part of a poverty-stricken society while Eden is a member of the wealthy and corrupt world above. Despite these differences the two cannot help but become friends and eventually more than this as they grow into their late teens. Where they meet, on each of their planets highest mountain peaks that are so close they nearly touch, Solanas captures the beauty of everything you might imagine when first hearing the concept. While 95% of the environment is CGI there is a different texture to it all that allows for us not be so much distracted by what we are seeing, but instead to bask in the sun drenched mountains and swirling clouds that surround our star crossed lovers. Why there names allude to the first man and woman in the Bible is certainly open to interpretation, but by seeing one another at all they are considered sinners in the eyes of each planets authorities and naturally are forced apart for a long span of time with hopes of ever reuniting completely vanquished. All of this is explained rather quickly through narration and the relationship between Adam and Eden is only given a few minutes of screen time before the story falls into the slums of how life goes on. As I said, in written form it feels as if there is so much more to divulge, so much more adventure to tell, but when seeing it in motion it doesn't have that same appeal.

While the main theme here is certainly for gravity to serve as some kind of metaphor depicting love and class in our own reality this all seems to take a back seat to the amazing visuals. It is somewhat of an incredible feat that Solanas and his team were able to achieve such spectacular visuals on such a limited budget (reportedly $50 million). While it is clear the filmmakers spent a good amount of time on constructing set pieces and figuring out how such worlds would co-exist and work in relation to one another, what distracts from the core story more is the over complication of some of the rules the universe has and enforces quickly while not necessarily re-enforcing them in throughout. In the beginning Adam tells us of the three rules that exist because of the gravity belonging to each planet. That All matter is pulled by the gravity of the world that it comes from, and not the other, that an object's weight can be offset by matter from the opposite world known as inverse matter, and that after some time matter in contact with inverse matter will begin to burn. Naturally these are set in place so as to provide the obstacles one of our heroes will face when trying to reach the other, but as far as forbidden love stories go there is never any real justification for why things have to be the way they are. This point opens itself even more to questioning when the conclusion comes around and things seem to be resolved with the ease of what felt like should have been a no-brainer. It is one of those situations where, as an audience member, you thought there had to be a rule against that somewhere or someone must have already figured that out for it is too easy to really just now come about and solve everyone's issues. Still, that is what happens in Upside Down and that is what ultimately causes the sense one gets of there not being a whole lot to this movie. It is a beautiful sight to behold, but there is no weight to it, no real emotional investment we feel inclined to take part in. It is all looks and no soul.

Eden (Kirsten Dunst) finds a dance place at her favorite restaurant in her privileged world.
Still, even with that being the case there are a few things I found enjoyable about the film and more than warrant it the slightly above average rating it has been assigned. Usually three star grades go to those films that are not necessarily horrible, but instead are completely what you expect them to be and nothing more, but more importantly nothing less. They are solid movies that don't make any strides to be better than they had to be but instead would fit perfectly as the definition to the word mundane. Upside Down isn't exactly what I would call mundane, but it simply had so much going for it and such opportunity to be something fresh and innovative it is rather disappointing that the final product turned out to be nothing more than a standard love story with a cool idea thrown in as the backdrop. With stars Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturgess both coming off roles in similarly ambitious films (Melancholia and Cloud Atlas) I hoped that they might have chosen this project because they had a certain taste for these other-worldly ideas and one where parallel universes connecting through themes of love, loss, and all those great emotions would again seem a story worth taking on. Unfortunately, compared to both of those aforementioned features this film would actually feel, and I hate to say it, mundane. Both the leads do fine enough work though Sturgess could have calmed down the awe-inducing sound his voice takes on in the narration (making many lines sound much cornier than they had to). Dunst is most effective here though and that may be because she doesn't have as much to do as Sturgess, but she puts off such a desperate, almost depressing aura of emptiness in Eden that we feel her pain and understand her needs despite the story under developing her relationship. She is the only real anchor here that makes the film worth watching as much as it is worth seeing, and trust me, it is worth seeing.