Upside Down is one of the most visually arresting movies to come out so far in 2013 (second to Stoker), and the visuals are endlessly beautiful. The problem is, that while director Juan Diego Solanas has spent a lot of time and energy on the eye candy, he could have spent just as much time crafting a better story to surround them.
The plot revolves around two worlds inhabited by the haves and have-nots, and it descends into a Romeo & Juliet-like story with some of George Orwell’s 1984 thrown in for good measure. Despite the gallant efforts of a very talented cast, Upside Down doesn’t quite suck you into its visually arousing display the way it wants to.
The story takes place in a world where two planets reside next to one another and their gravities pull in opposite directions. The upside world is inhabited with the rich and prosperous who strive to exploit the goods of both worlds for their own benefit, and the downside world is where the poor live in squalor and poverty (talk about your literal interpretations of up and down).
Still, the planets are so close that their highest mountain peaks almost touch, and that’s where Adam (Jim Sturgess) and Eden (Kirsten Dunst) meet as children. As they grow up, they continue to meet one another in Adam’s world after he uses a rope to pull Eden towards it, and they engage in the kind of makeout sessions we teenagers always remember having. Tragedy strikes, however, when they are discovered by interplanetary border-patrol agents who attack them. In the process of trying to get Eden back to her planet safely, the rope is cut and she looks to have fallen to her death.
The story then zooms ten years ahead into the future where Adam works in a decaying factory. One day at work Adam sees Eden on television, very much alive and working at TransWorld, a mega corporation whose enormous building is the only structure that connects the two worlds. Adam’s plan from there is to get a job at TransWorld to find Eden, but once he’s there he discovers that the fall she took all those years ago gave her amnesia, and as a result she has no memory of their times together. Risking his life by making his way into her world, Adam is determined to make Eden fall in love with him all over again.
Now, just in case you’re thinking that this is a sci-fi remake of The Vow, it’s not. Upside Down has more on its mind than just a love story as it also ponders the gulf between those who have it all and those who have nothing. The problem is, is that we are pondering those same questions and the way they are presented in this movie makes them pale in comparison to our everyday life. All the thematic elements in Upside Down are as old as they come, and the fact that we know where this film is more or less heading makes it feel a bit dull as a result.
Upside Down features some very strong performances, especially from its leads. While Jim Sturgess gets a little too emotional while narrating the movie’s prologue, he does give a spirited performance as Adam and you’ll find yourself rooting for him to rekindle the passion with Eden.
Kirsten Dunst remains a wonderful presence in each movie she does, and while her performance here doesn’t quite reach the heights of Melancholia, she succeeds in melting our hearts as a character that is slowly but surely regaining her past. There’s also a terrific supporting performance from Timothy Spall who plays Bob, a corporate man who does not toe the party line. The wit and depth that Spall gives his role is something Upside Down could have used a bit more of.
Director Juan Solanas previously gave us The Man Without a Head and Nordeste, and each of those movies showed a tremendous ambition on his part. Upside Down has that same ambition on a visual level, and that comes as no surprise since he started off in the world of photography. The visuals he offers us in this film are beautiful and filled with just about every color you can imagine. It’s hard to compare it to other films of this genre, and the look alone makes it almost worth the price of admission.
Regardless of how great looking a movie this is though, it still feels dramatically inert. The situations and the dialogue feel stilted, and the performances lose some of their power due to the fact that the actors are working in an artificial background. As a result, Upside Down comes across as a bit dull despite all the work that was put into it. Perhaps the movie will appeal more to audiences who haven’t read or seen William Shakespeare’s classic play Romeo & Juliet a hundred times. But for those who have, and even for those just familiar with the story, don’t expect to find anything new here.