Hard to fall for 'Upside Down'

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:39 PM ET

Upside Down is a sci-fi fantasy romance with a simple theme: Potentially, love can overcome the forces of gravity.

As a metaphysical notion, that has appeal. True love does somehow give us the giddy exuberance to ignore the physical realities that govern our existence on Planet Earth. You can at least feel lighter than air.

Filmmaker Juan Solanas, however, tries to give this notion an actual physical reality. So he invents a confusing new world with what his narrator calls "double gravity." His movie immediately starts to both entice, because it looks so visually stunning, and infuriate, because his storytelling is so murky and haphazard.

On Solanas' planet, two distinct populations of humans exist in entirely inverted states. The humans on the "Upside" are bound by one force of gravity and enjoy prosperous lives in a brightly lit, high-tech environment. The human on the "Down" side are bound by an inverted force and moil through miserable lives in a dismal and foul, low-tech environment that is eternally darkened.

Connections between the two worlds -- which operate in sight of each other -- are strictly controlled by the fascist authorities of the Upside. The Up people feel genetically and intellectually superior to the Down people. This is a sci-fi version of racism and the class system that plagues our real lives on Earth. But, this being a romantic movie, it is inevitable in the fantasy that two young lovers from the opposite worlds attract, like the opposite poles of magnets. Needless to say, trouble will ensue.

While the two lovers first meet as children, they really get to know each other as young adults. By this time, they are played by Jim Sturgess (dewy-eyed Jude in Across the Universe) and Kirsten Dunst (who knows hopeless romances as Mary Jane in three Spiderman movies). Sturgess is also Solanas' narrator, being forced to explain a lot of sci-fi nonsense that establishes the rules of the double gravity, its risks and the mental anguish faced by the Down people, including himself.

A lot of those rules are ignored or broken by the filmmaker. There is little consistency. As a creator, you cannot tell us one thing and have characters do another without consequence. Upside Down is plagued with those problems, at least in small ways. It is frustrating for the viewer.

The movie also labours through plodding English dialogue. I wonder if Upside Down might have been magical if filmed in French instead. This is a Canada-France co-production shot in Montreal, after all. And the writer-director, Solanas, is an Argentine who grew up in France. This was after his father, famed Argentinian filmmaker Fernando E. Solanas, fled state terrorism in their home country in 1977 -- so young Solanas' socio-political views came from personal family experience.

Instead of poetic French, however, we get that blah English from Sturgess and Dunst, who have zero chemistry and sex appeal together. No matter how interesting the special effects visuals -- and Solanas' Herculean attempts to show people interacting on two inverted planes in the same scenes -- Upside Down is a pedestrian love story.

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos