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Upside Down
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by Jay Seaver

"Beautiful but weightless - but it's supposed to be about defying gravity."
4 stars

I admit, you can't honestly look at Juan Solanas's "Upside Down" and call the writing much other than a mess - there really isn't one thing in this movie that makes sense. But, on the other hand, I can't help but admire the fact that Solanas actually got enough people to give him money to put his elaborate, beyond-quirky fantasy on screen. Just look at this thing - it's so weird and beautiful as to be worth at least one big-screen viewing.

Adam (Jim Sturgess) and Eden (Kirsten Dunst) quite literally live on different worlds, although at their closest point these planets nearly touch, and each planet's gravity only affects its own matter. They met as kids when climbing to the top of mountains, but Adam thought Eden was killed when the border patrol caught them as teenagers. Ten years later, though, he finds out otherwise, and takes a job at Transworld Industries, whose massive skyscraper headquarters connects the two worlds, with the intent of seeing her again - with a little help from Bob (Timothy Spall), who has the cubicle on his ceiling.

I honestly tried not to be the left-brained guy who can't enjoy something because of bad science, so let me get this out of the way: That's not how gravity works! What about tidal forces? My brain hurts just thinking about how these planets rotate to have day and night without that building being shredded! And while I sort of get "inverse matter heats and burns when in contact for too long" in a metaphorical sense, does this not apply to air? We see characters drink upside-down cocktails, which is a nifty visual, until you think of what kind of choking hazard it must be, let alone the danger of one's insides catching on fire!

Thank you for putting up with that. I feel better having let it out.

The thing is, it's not just bad science - even if you presume that the weird physics work, there's a lot in the script that just doesn't make sense: For a world with twenty-first century technology, the ignorance of "pink pollen" spread by bees at the border seems unlikely. Adam's and Eden's reunion is complicated by a groan-worthy plot device, while being facilitated by phenomenally lax security on the part of a company paranoid about the lower-class people of Adam's world mingling with the upper-class of Eden's. Solanas has built a nifty metaphor for class and colonialism here, with the potential stinger of how the poor can't rise above a certain level and the privileged will only be allowed to fall so far, but won't really go for the kill. A lot of the last act seems to be things working themselves out rather than Adam and Eden seizing things on their own.

But, despite all that - well, as I said, just look at this movie! Most of it takes place on Adam's world, so nearly every exterior shot features a run-down city with a gleaming upside-down metropolis as the sky. There's a restaurant that literally features dancing on the ceiling (or floor, depending on your perspective). The scenes of the mountaintops where Adam and Eden initially meet are gorgeous, and even if a chase through the shell of a building or wrecked dirigible sometimes has CGI that might look more at home in a video game than a feature film, it's the sort of not-quite-perfect that is often assumed to only be possible from practical effects, where the imperfections are forgivable because it's clearly the product of someone's imagination given form. This movie must be a heck of a thing to see in 3D; unfortunately the boutique house where it played in Boston doesn't have that capability. It's not just the effects work, though - there's a sort of sheer delight in discovery of how Solanas and company twist what could be mundane scenes, little wonders in various corners and not being able to take anything for granted.

The movie is basically a fairy tale of the sweet variety, and the main cast makes that work. Sturgess has to make Adam's stubborn optimism and romantic nature believable despite all the reasons we're given for him to be angry and embittered, and he does well with it, including when that anger or depression has to come through. He's also handy when it comes to physical comedy, though saddled with a lot clunky narration. Dunst is under-used - the movie is mostly from Adam's perspective - but she makes Eden easy to fall for and carries the character's own issues well. Timothy Spall is a great secret weapon to have in a supporting role; even sporting an odd North American accent, he's funny and lovable and able to pull off being both kind of a schlub and kind of a genius.

There's a good chance that "Upside Down" won't be nearly so charming on a second viewing, and after three or four, a viewer might take the things Solanas is putting on the screen for granted and only notice the script's shortcomings. So maybe just see it once; it's certainly worth that.

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originally posted: 03/20/13 03:16:00
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User Comments

5/21/17 Bob Dog Original sci-fi concept logically played out with charmingly romantic results. 5 stars
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  15-Mar-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 25-Jun-2013


  DVD: 18-Jun-2013

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