Indie & Foreign

Turn off the part of your brain that understands gravity.

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Upside Down is indie cinema in all its wonder and flaws. The premise of two worlds with opposing gravities will nearly sprain your suspension of disbelief, but if you’re able to let go, you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous-looking movie, if not an entirely convincing one.

Still, it’s hard to think that with better-defined rules, a less stereotypical plot, and an ending that doesn’t feel like a focus group held the director at gunpoint, we’d have a cult classic for the ages instead of a by-the-number romance with a stunning backdrop. Ah well.

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[do action=”moment” emo=”Puzzling” title=”Hope you didn’t expect the physics in this movie to make any damn sense.”/]

The opening exposition throws a lot at us, and we need to swallow a lot before we even meet the protagonists. I hope you didn’t get into this movie expecting science fiction, because this is near-nonsensical fantasy of the highest order: two planets, existing within mere kilometers of one another, each pulled back by their own opposite and non-interacting gravity. Just saying, don’t look for this in any physics textbook.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Cute” title=”Meet Cute at the mountaintops.”/]

Adam and Eden (yes, it’s that on the nose) meet where both worlds almost touch through respective mountain peaks. It’s fun, looks gorgeous, and it’s pretty heavy on the metaphor. So far so good.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Disappointing” title=”The adorable young girl turns into emotionally-distant Kirsten Dunst.”/]

This movie isn’t gonna help my perception of Dunst as anything other than an emotionally-distant actress. She’s pretty, sure, but her performances are always detached, almost emotionally unavailable. I don’t know what it is, but I know it makes her a poor choice of a romantic co-lead. (Incidentally, this made her a good Mary Jane in Spider-Man, precisely because she was the object of unrequited love for Peter Parker; it’s also what made MJ’s declaration of love for Parker anticlimactic, but I digress.) Still, I bet her being attached to this movie helped get it made.

[do action=”moment” emo=”LookingGood” title=”If nothing else, this movie is visually stunning.”/]

Say what you will about the weird and inconsistent laws of physics; I’m willing to put all this aside just to enjoy the stunning visuals they provide. There’s something profound and otherworldly about the sight of Up Above and its shining lights, casting a half-glow on the Depression-era-like Down Below. There’s nothing quite like it in cinema. The part of it that’s a metaphor for social inequity is too obvious for my tastes, but whatever.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Fun” title=”Transworld has the coolest offices ever.”/]

I’m pretty sure I’d get pissed at having to crane my neck to look up at my Up Above colleagues, but you gotta admit that Floor Zero of Transworld, where the two worlds meet and work in mirror, is really cool and clever. Not sure how Adam managed to go from destitute factory worker to office drone in Transworld HQ, but hey.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Cheesy” title=”Surprise! It’s an amnesia plot!”/]

Ah, amnesia, hallmark of lazy screenwriting since the invention of writing. If it weren’t for Eden’s convenient amnesia, this movie would be resolved the second Adam walks into her office. Or, perhaps, we’d get a more complex story about forbidden love, instead of a cheap 50 First Dates residue.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Frustrating” title=”Just how long can Adam hang upside down before passing out?”/]

Jesus, is he Spider-Man or something? According to the laws of physics in play in this film, Adam is being held upside down by Up Above weights that make him float. But Down Below is still pulling on him, and at the very least he’d be red-faced and out of breath most of the time. Instead, the bricks-in-the-pockets trick just transforms him into an Up Above citizen. This is the kind of convenient shortcut that undermines the whole movie.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Disappointing” title=”That movie rule is annoying? Here, Bob’ll get rid of it for ya.”/]

Screenwriting 101: if you establish a rule early on (“Down Below and Up Above materials get hot when put together”), you’d better have a damn good explanation when you decide to break that rule. Here, Bob just automagically gets rid of the heat problem by… By… I have no idea how he did it. There’s just no way to build a shirt that wouldn’t involve materials from both worlds touching. Bleh.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Disappointing” title=”The movie doesn’t even come close to earning this happy ending.”/]

After all the contrivances the plot put us through, it turns out all Adam needed to do to be with Eden was to knock her up! This somehow lets her stay in Down Below for as long as she wants, and transforms the world into one of harmony and social justice.

It’s like a focus group of angry aunties held the screenwriters at gunpoint until they wrote in the happiest ending they could possibly conceive. It doesn’t make any damn sense, and it’s so bad it retroactively robs the movie of its dramatic tension. What a disappointment.

Upside Down (2012)

Upside Down is founded on a great idea and some fantastic visuals, but the inner logic is too inconsistent to yield something truly worthwhile. Pity.


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