Juan Solanas‘ Upside Down is a visually pleasing disaster. It’s a noble failure that deserves credit for attempting to break the mold of the genre, but it also must be held accountable for its various fumbles, brought on by the story’s own questionable logic and Solanas’ attempt to spark romance in a film that’s more worried about sci-fi.
Adam (Jim Sturgess) lives in the world “down below” and Eden (Kirsten Dunst) lives in the world “up above”. The two literally live in opposite worlds that are held together/apart by gravity. When one looks up they see the other world and even though the two worlds are at times an arm reach away it’s forbidden for one to cross over.
It’s also sort of impossible. If one attempts to use matter from the other world to switch their gravitational pull they’ll be met with extreme heat after a certain amount of time on the other side. There’s also many security systems that have been put in order to maintain the balance between worlds.
Adam and Eden meet early on in their younger years and continue to fall for each other, despite knowing the punishment for interacting with someone from the other side. Eventually they get caught and Eden has an accident that erases her memory, while Adam continues to search for her and ways to get to her once and for all.
Love plays a key role in Juan Solanas‘ Upside Down. Solanas attempts to juggle the idea of soul mates and love being everlasting and he does it with an odd blend of hardcore science fiction and sappy romance. There’s also a little bit of unintentional comedy sprinkled in to help ease the pain of some of the film’s weaker performers.
The science fiction element of the film is strong, even if it skips a couple beats. The concept is established with importance at the beginning and enough laws and rules make their way into the film to remind you of why the characters are jumping through so many hoops.
The romance is often underplayed, acting more as a motivator for more of the science fiction-heavy stuff to come popping through. It’ almost like a two hour demo reel of Adam inventing new stuff with his friends, just so that he can make his way to the other world to see Eden. This is both interesting and frustrating, because it makes for lots of great imagery, but a story that’s confused and too forcefully paced.
One of the biggest distractions in Upside Down is the feeling of disconnect. It feels as if massive chunks of the film were either left out or never shot. Adam and Eden establish their relationship quickly and then we’re pushed into the future where Adam is some mad scientist, creating new life-altering things. Instead of learning more about how Adam became this successful young man in the face of such depression we’re simply forced to ignore the finer details and focus on the present.
Adam’s got plenty of friends that are never used for more than five minutes and he also appears to know his way out of any situation, even if it’s completely unknown to him.
The same goes for Eden too. Director Juan Solanas only shows us brief moments of her career, causing us to lazily fill in the blanks as the film bounces around from one visually impressive location to the next.
One thing the film excels in is the visual department. Each set piece is creatively better than the last, with the CGI world blending in just fine with the real one. Watching Adam and Eden kiss on a double-sided mountain brings out the sappy emotions of true love and watching Adam race out of a massive skyscraper, while the camera is constantly changing positions, is quite an exhilarating experience that might even give you a bit of motion sickness.
The entire film is constantly switching angles or directions, leaving you confused, but intrigued. This works as an afterthought, but as soon as you start thinking about the film you’ll soon start to lose interest. There’s too many holes to keep the science intact and there’s always that feeling of missed opportunity whenever the story decides to take a turn.
The acting is so-so, with Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst displaying natural chemistry, but frequently over-acting. Sturgess grasps the young boy in puppy love mode with a constant spring in his step and Dunst plays it cool as the girl with very little on her mind. Again, both actors work well with each other, but there’s a constant shift in tone whenever they attempt to sift through the thicker material. They haven’t established their characters nearly enough for the audience to become emotionally invested.
Upside Down is a film that I respect for its aspirations. Clearly director Juan Solanas set out to make something unique and while he succeeded he also failed. The visuals are strong and the concept is different, but the execution is severely flawed and the ending line almost ruins the film completely.
Upside Down – 6/10