Upside Down (2013)
100 min., rated PG-13.
Aren't we all sick and tired of romances between star-crossed lovers from twin planets? All kidding aside, "Upside Down" gives most "earthbound" romantic comedies and soulless, effects-driven contraptions a run for their money, first and foremost from being an ethereal, beautifully conceived and mounted romantic sci-fi fantasy decked with wonder and imagination. The audaciously loopy backdrop of the film posits that the universe is made up with "dual gravity," two twin planets revolving around the same sun but each having its own opposite gravity. It's possible to fall up, where the "Haves" reside, and rise down, where the "Have-Nots" reside.
Orphaned and left to live with his aunt as a teen, Adam (Jim Sturgess) would climb up a snowy mountain, where he began a relationship with Eden (Kirsten Dunst), who's from "Up Top." He would pull her from her gravity into his (she's upside down like a bat), but after many years, they were discovered and Eden's memory was wiped from an accident. Ten years later, as Adam tries cracking an anti-aging, anti-gravity beauty cream with pink bee pollen, he discovers that Eden is still alive, working at Transworld, the greedy mega-corporation that connects the two planets. He goes up above to have his invention patented and sees it as an opportunity to reunite with Eden, who works on one of the upper floors of Transworld, but her amnesia leaves her with no recollection of who he is or their former bond. If they once were two souls earnestly in love, maybe love is eternally stronger than gravity.
Argentinean photographer-turned-writer-director Juan Solanas has fashioned a visionary, gravity-defying visual feast. After about six straight minutes of Sturgess' heavy-handed voice-over narration, "Upside Down," written by Solanas, is a dizzying discovery of exposition and gravitational rules but then advances forward without insulting the viewer's intelligence. With the opposite worlds and social classes being their major roadblocks, this is really an unabashedly romantic love story, much in the vein of "Romeo and Juliet," only flipped on its head, literally, with an interplanetary twist.
The topsy-turvy effect doesn't just appear to be a horizontal split screen of both planes, which is impressive considering Solanas made the film for $60 million, whereas the budget for Christopher Nolan's "Inception" was $160 million. Disorienting and dazzling as it is fully realized, the film is like watching a gorgeous dream unfold. Solanas' visual effects team and Alex McDowell's cool, lustrous production design of the floor-to-ceiling Transworld office and the poor, dingy "Down Below" enhance this vast, glossy but never artificial-looking landscape. There's a fleeting but awe-inspiring moment where Adam finishes up his lunch date with Eden, just as the matter of his shoes are burning up; he then races into Up's ocean, falling through the sky and landing into Down's ocean. Other amusing details include Adam using hairspray to help him pass as one of the "Up Top"; Eden teaching him to drink a martini upside down; and another instance in the men's restroom, where Adam doesn't realize his urine is hitting the ceiling and not the urinal.
Science-minded viewers can call rubbish on the entire conceit, like questioning how Adam can stand all the blood rushing to his head while being upside down, but this is a film where you either accept the fantasy or you don't. Sturgess and Dunst (who has expertise in kissing upside down) are lovely together, grounding the story and somehow dialing down the grandiosity of the concept onto a human level. Timothy Spall (better known as Peter Pettigrew from the "Harry Potter" films) also adds delightfully hammy comic relief as Bob Boruchowitz, a friendly Transworld co-worker who helps Adam get in touch with his long-lost love. Despite some narrative gaps and a deus ex machina rushing things to an overly starry-eyed final reveal that swings for the fences, "Upside Down" is still hard to resist for its earnest heart and visual splendor. It gives us a relationship to care about in a world that we've never visited before.
Grade: B +