Upside Down (2013) – Directed by Juan Diego Solanas – Starring Jim Sturgess, Kirsten Dunst, Timothy Spall, and Blu Mankuma.
I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not I want to post this reaction.
There are movies that are worth our derision. When Big Hollywood spends over $150 million to make a soulless mess like World War Z or Mars Needs Moms, I don’t really mind letting a film have it, but when I’m confronted with a film that, while terrible, feels like a personal vision and an honest attempt to tell an actual story …
Well, that’s UPSIDE DOWN.
For a film I only became aware of because I kept seeing the cover whenever I started a new round of Netflix fishing, it’s surprising to me how much I want to love this movie. The opening voice over, in which Adam (Jim Sturgess) waxes philosophical about the possibility of love being more powerful than gravity is almost laughably cringeworthy, except that he’s so earnest in his desire to have the world work according to emotion rather than science that it’s like listening to a friend who’s fallen so deeply in love that he’s become intellectually damaged – yeah, he’s speaking nonsense but it’s a harmless nonsense, and he’s so earnest, you want him to be proven right.
Love is the best way for me to try and articulate my thoughts about UPSIDE DOWN. If you’ve ever developed a crush on someone from a distance, only to have tat crush turn sour when you get up close, you have a close approximation of my relationship with UPSIDE DOWN. The look of this movie is gorgeous and inspiring. It’s like watching a beautiful painting start to move and if it was a silent movie, I could probably love it openly.
But, man, nearly every time someone opens their mouth and starts talking … it’s a disaster.
UPSIDE DOWN is a riff on Romeo and Juliet, in which Adam and Eden (Kirsten Dunst) play poor boy/rich girl from different sides of the gravitational field. There are two planets who orbit a sun together, creating what the film calls “dual gravity.” Basically, this means there’s a planet right on top of your head. You look up at a world that appears upside down, and Adam eventually goes to work in an office where the ceiling of his floor is the other side’s floor. Visually, this idea plays out in visuals that never get old. Writer/Directer Juan Diego Solanas finds really innovate ways to keep showing this difference off – whatever problems Solanas the Writer has, Solanas the Director is a guy to watch because he knows how to film a story much better than he knows how to tell one.
Which makes him the Argentinian M. Night Shyamalan, I suppose.
The film opens with that horrible narration that’s one part emotional fantasy and one part scientific info dump. It’s brutal to listen to, but the graphics beneath that voice over and really well done. When the film proper starts, we see a young Adam leaving the orphanage and visiting his aunt, who lives out near a mountain that comes close to touching the Up world (they literally call the worlds Up and Down). She makes these special pancakes from pink bees from Up and Adam has to go get the pollen. He sneaks through a fence and climbs the mountain. One day, he climbs to the top and sees a girl about his age on Up doing the same. They fall into young love with one another, and despite it being illegal for people to travel between planets, Adam tosses Eden a rope to pull her down to his world so they can hang out together.
When an object from one world goes to the other world, it’s still run by the original world’s gravitational field, so Eden can’t come to Down and walk around because her body is always going to fall up towards her world. There’s a really clever bit where Adam pulls her down and she lays on the underside of a rock cropping, which prevents her from floating/falling away.
These opening scenes are rather good and I found myself falling into this beautiful world of blues and grays and mountains and clouds and swirling snow and two crazy kids falling in love with each other. Eventually, they’re discovered, and as Adam is using the rope to slowly raise Eden back to Up, he gets shot, the rope gets released, and Eden slams hard into the mountain on her world. Adam’s last sight is seeing her lying still, blood pouring out into the snow.
And that’s when the movie stops working for me.
Adam goes on to try to invent facial cream that gets him a job in the company Eden works for, and Eden gets amnesia and can’t remember him. Other than a compelling performance from Timothy Spall as a worker from Up who befriends Adam and helps him get in contact with Eden, there’s so much bad dialogue and clumsy storytelling over the next 45 minutes that I just could not finish the movie.
Maybe if the premise wasn’t so interesting and the visuals so compelling the story’s clunkiness would be less of a problem, but there’s so much potential that the better the film looks, the more each problem with the narrative and acting becomes magnified. I think Solanas makes a mistake, too, focusing on Adam, when Eden is so much more compelling. Adam is just a poor kid who’s never fallen out of love with his first love, but Eden is from the world that profits off its abuse of the other world, and has amnesia and talks of having dreams from before her accident. That story, that struggle, is much more in line with the film’s visual otherworldliness than Adam’s mundane and, frankly, rather infantile approach to life.
Right after Timothy Spall’s character, Bob, gets fired, I stopped watching.
I did it to save the good feelings I had about the film that the story was rapidly stealing from me. When I was much younger, I was the kind of guy who fell for types instead of actual women. I had a crush on a girl that I was convinced was THE ONE. She was exactly the type of girl I knew I wanted. But there’s a funny truth about crushes – crushes are always based on an incomplete picture of a person. Crushes happen because you like what little you see and then fill in the blank spaces with fantasy. If you know a person, you can’t have a crush on them – you either like them or you don’t.
Eventually, I went on a date with THE ONE and it was a complete disaster. To this day, it was one of the worst dates I’ve had, but not because of some dramatic or crazy story. No, it was just dull and boring. We barely spoke. I spent the night realizing that mistaking a crush for love was a dumb thing to do and that terrible night was the price to pay for my immaturity. I was thrilled when the night was finally over and I could put the past few months behind me and move on. I’m sure she felt the same way.
So, of course, we went out the next week, too.
That date wasn’t significantly better.
So, of course, we agreed to go out the next week, as well.
Mercifully, she cancelled mid-week. Not only was I immature, I was probably something of a coward, too, though in my defense it did seem like after openly pining for her for so long it would be a major dick move if I was the one who eventually turned her down. Regardless, I was glad whatever we were doing was over, and we became okay friends for a bit.
That’s why I shut UPSIDE DOWN off. We weren’t falling in love, but I’d like to stay on friendly terms with this beautiful failure.