MRR Review: "Upside Down"

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Jim Sturgess & Kirsten Dunst star in this sci-fi romantic drama about a man who's been kept apart from the girl he loves for his entire life. He must risk everything to access the forbidden world of affluence that exists literally above him while manipulating the gravitational force that physically pulls him back to his world.
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MRR Review: "Upside Down"

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 100 minutes
Release Date: March 15, 2013
Directed by: Juan Solanas
Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi

Effects-heavy science fiction films sometimes struggle to find a good balance between eye-catching effects and a story that really captures the viewer's imagination. Some movies manage to do this well, allowing visual effects to complement the story. Other movies don't manage the balance as well with the visuals completely overpowering the story and leaving the viewer feeling underwhelmed once the film is over. Unfortunately, "Upside Down" falls largely into the latter category and suffers under the weight of its own majesty.

The premise behind "Upside Down" is an old one, dating back to the days of Shakespeare and before. Two star-crossed lovers from different worlds manage to meet and fall in love, fighting against all odds to end up together even though the world tries to keep them apart. In "Upside Down," this is actually taken fairly literally with the lovers actually living on different worlds that remain in a locked orbit close enough to each other that citizens of one world can see the cities on the other. Each world has its own gravitational pull, and the separation of the two worlds keeps the lower-class citizens on one planet and the upper-class citizens on the other.

In the story, Adam (played by Jim Sturgess) and Eden (played by Kirsten Dunst) met and fell in love when they were teenagers. Adam was from the lower-class world, while Eden was upper class, and their love was doomed by a political system that used an interplanetary border patrol agency to keep the classes from mixing. When she's caught with Adam by the agency, Eden falls to her world and is initially thought to be dead. Adam finally discovers that she's still alive ten years later, leading him on a quest to infiltrate the corporation that owns a tower connecting the two worlds so that he can be reunited with Eden at last.

While the story sounds fairly interesting in premise, its actual delivery falls a bit short. In many scenes, there isn't much of a reason to care about the characters or whether they end up together in the end. Very little character development happens on screen, so viewers are left knowing what the characters are going through but not making that journey with them. Sturgess and Dunst did well in their roles, but the material they were working with left too many holes that were filled with quick patches of backstory and weak realizations. In a few cases, the holes weren't filled at all and left you wondering exactly when the setup to certain scenes occurred. Viewers are treated to a few tense moments in the middle of the action, but without any development leading up to them, those moments also feel a little flat.

Further throwing off the balance is the fact that the visual effects are good but not quite good enough to make up for the plot holes. "Upside Down" isn't a high-art film that can be forgiven a shallow plot because of its beauty; the visuals are well done, but at times they leave you wondering why the filmmakers did so well with the visual side of things but left the story feeling somewhat flat and generic. Some scenes are easy enough to lose yourself in, but in the end, these are too few and too brief to overcome some of the more questionable parts of the plot. At some points, the visuals are good enough to leave you wishing that the rest of the movie was better, but unfortunately, these points are generally followed fairly quickly by some of the aforementioned holes in the plot, so you can't fully enjoy them for what they are.

This isn't to say that "Upside Down" is a completely bad movie, however. It is by no means a great movie, but it has enough entertainment value in it to make it watchable. The plot does get lost in the visuals, and some moments might leave you wondering whether you missed something, but the film does have its highlights. Enjoying the film does require a bit of suspension of disbelief, and you might find yourself groaning a little in some places, but so long as you're not expecting the next "Inception" or a film that perfectly marries its plot and visuals, then you might enjoy it.

Rating: 3 out of 5