‘Upside Down’ – sterile, unconvincing tripe

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Upside Down

Directed by Juan Diego Solanas

Written by Juan Diego Solanas

France-Canada, 2012

A film which relies largely on a plot gimmick is skating on very thin ice from the start, and a weak story will completely undermine even the most unique of concepts. Originating from a peculiar short story and driven by a solid adapted script from its director Christopher Nolan, Memento (2000) is a shining example of a gimmick which doesn’t grow tiresome. In contrast, Upside Down constantly threatens to be the very opposite – and it most certainly would be, were there not so many other things wrong with it.

The crux is illustrated by a tedious opening monologue from the protagonist Adam (Jim Sturgess), who lives in an alternate universe on an impoverished planet which lies directly beneath a far more prosperous one. They are connected only through the company ‘TransWorld’ and both are governed by the laws of ‘dual gravity’:

  1. All matter is pulled by the gravity of the world that it comes from, and not the other.
  2. An object’s weight can be offset by matter from the opposite world (inverse matter).
  3. After some time in contact, matter in contact with inverse matter burns.

The film centres around Adam and Eden (Kirsten Dunst) who fall in love despite being from different worlds.

Upside Down, which went on initial release last year, is visually reminiscent of the equally disappointing Stardust (2007), albeit the premise is more intriguing thanks to the aforementioned gimmick. Considering how effects-reliant the film is, it does a good job of making dreamy look trashy, despite a £50 million budget. Like some ugly, unwanted child of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), the film has no intention of looking realistic, instead opting for faux-arty skyscraper shots and a bombardment of lens flare; but the cinematography fails to engage due to the plastic, cybernated appearance of the two worlds. The scenes of upside-down conversation between characters are almost instantly exasperating; this wouldn’t be such a glaring issue, were the conversations  not so utterly sterile and unconvincing. Adam and Eden’s first scene together ten years prior to the main events of the film not only blunders in its attempt to persuade us to root for their ‘budding romance’, but actually makes us wonder if these people have ever even met before. Dunst is wooden and Sturgess can’t cope with the dire script, meaning the lack of chemistry is the least of their problems. Fortunately for the audience (but unfortunately for the screenwriter, who presumably intended for this to be a love story) the time they spend together on screen is minimal.

This is the most astounding thing about Upside Down. The first hour revolves around Adam’s pursuit of Eden – including the revelation that she no longer remembers him due to suffering from amnesia – and yet the circumstances within which they finally reunite romantically are astonishingly clumsy and rushed, failing yet again to convince us that the pair have any real connection. The incongruent pacing obstructs the already unconvincing plot and the disproportionate action sequences challenge Transformers for some of the least gripping moments in recent years. Not even Timothy Spall’s charming turn as Bob can lift the vapid script and uninspiring, overly sentimental message (or lack of one). The final straw, however, comes in the form of an abrupt ostensible closing monologue from Adam, who sullenly describes how his story has come to an end without Eden, just moments before the entire film decides it does want a happy ending, after all.

And, worst of all, we just don’t care. It’s not edgy enough for the allusion toward an anticlimax to be interesting and it’s not absorbing enough for you to care about them taking the coward’s way out, either. The more Upside Down tries to look beautiful, the uglier it becomes; the more it tries to pull itself together, the more it falls apart. It could have been a social commentary on poverty and social hierarchy, or an Inception-style neo-noir thriller, if it could be bothered. Instead, it’s nothing but a cheesy, clichéd mess which doesn’t work as a love story, or as anything else.

Released in the USA 15th March 2013

-Jack Haworth

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