Odd Fairy Tale of ‘Upside Down’ is Also Inside Out

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Rating: 2.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Definitely one of the strangest films so far in 2013 is “Upside Down,” featuring a dream pairing of Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturgess. The problem is they exist as disparate lovers on opposing planets, with opposite gravitational pulls. Thus what is up for Kirsten is down for Jim, or vice-versa?

With an opening prologue that tries to explain it all, it’s best to go with the easy of flow of lovers who are “upside down” from each other. Yes, this is shown on screen in vertigo inducing special effects. The planet that the Dunst character resides on is rich and powerful, which makes handsome Sturgess left with the dregs of the “other” planet. With elements of “Brave New World” and “1984,” there is also a corporation who wants to control this set-up, and only allows downers from Jim’s world to come “up” if they can profit from an invention. There are a lot of hoops to jump through and logic holes to venture into to grasp the story, which is basically a fairy tale featuring star-crossed lovers. The vagueness of it all is the subtracting factor, and the bizarro up-and-down head trip of the film may be a journey that only science fiction nerds can enjoy.

Two worlds, which rotate together, have polar opposite gravity. For example, a look to the sky is to see the other world upside down. The upper world is occupied and controlled by an international corporation, which controls all employment and exploits the lower world by taking its resources. The lower-world boy named Adam (Jim Sturgess) is an adventurer, and climbs to the peaks of his earth to meet with Eden (Kirsten Dunst), even though there are warnings of spontaneous combustion when opposites attract.

Jim Sturgess, Kirsten Dunst
Lovers Adam (Jim Sturgess) and Eden (Kirsten Dunst) Reunite in ‘Upside Down’
Photo credit: Millennium Entertainment

They are pursued by the “big brother’ authorities – who want to prevent such couplings – and Eden is injured in the escape. Ten years later, Adam gets an opportunity to work in the upper world, with his main motivation to find and connect with Eden again. Luckily, he has an upper world ally in Bob (Timothy Spall) and Eden just happens to work for the same corporation. Despite their gravitational obstacles, love can prevail.

This is more way out than “Way, Way Out” (1966) with Jerry Lewis. Trying to get your head around the concept takes a good 20 minutes, and then afterwards there isn’t much to fuss about a boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-defies-corporate-overloads-to-regain-girl fairy tale. Just being upside down is not enough of a hook in the story – written by director Juan Solanas – although it is weird enough to be interesting, just don’t try to understand why (do clothes have their own gravitational pull? Discuss). And it’s oh-so-convenient that the Upsi-daisium that Adam must wear to walk on the other world starts burning up on the wearer after a certain time.

Dunst is back playing ingenue after her amazing performance in 2011’s “Melancholia.” Her forgetfulness is due to amnesia, from the fall back to her planet while cavorting with Adam ten years earlier, and is straight out of a soap opera. There is no feeling in her persona, and subsequently no stake in getting the couple back together. Dunst has also been around so long, that it assumed she’s older than the boyish Sturgess (he’s actually five years her senior). There was nothing for her to do but act strangely distant, and she succeeds in that one emotion.

Sturgess has even a bit more thanklessness in his task, he’s the boy who wants his girl back, so he has to burn up in the other gravity, all while looking like a young Paul McCartney. It’s also quite unintentionally funny for the corporation overloads to pursue the lovers at a drop of the hat, but give Adam free rein around the office to store his Upsi-daisium for his switch on gravity and use the upper world office phones just by staying late, all the while not causing a whit of suspicion. Some big brothers they are.

Upside Down
Another Day at the Office in ‘Upside Down’
Photo credit: Millennium Entertainment

This does have a visual sense that is one-of-a-kind, who else had made a film featuring folks walking above each other? That strangeness is the pull, like the two gravities. Timothy Spall, the British character actor portraying Bob, is perfectly in the spirit of it all, culminating with a mid-air pirouette when he visits Adam down below. What’s not to like about that? It’s the dull and oddly predictable story that lets this film down, or is it up?

Upsi-daisium, by the way, is a fictional mineral from the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoon show, with anti-gravity properties. Even in that story, it turns out the government wants to exploit the resource as well. Big Brother sure likes getting paid.

“Upside Down” has a limited release, including Chicago, on March 15th. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Jim Sturgess, Kirsten Dunst, Timothy Spall and Agnieska Wnorowska. Written and directed by Juan Solanas. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2013 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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