What if love was stronger than gravity?
PopGap #25: Upside Down (2012)
I hadn't heard of either Upside Down or its director, Juan Diego Solanas, prior to taking assignments for this month's edition of the Potluck Film Festival. I tend to be wary of science fiction, as the genre's fans usually greet it with a reserve of goodwill which I do not possess, so the idea of watching a recent-but-obscure entry in a genre that I find generally underwhelming felt like a burden. Thankfully, Upside Down was novel enough in its conception, and refreshingly atypical in tone, that it was consistently enjoyable, even if its recycling of a few sci-fi tropes lacked inspiration.
In the universe of Upside Down, there are two planets in such close proximity that they nearly touch. Each planet has a gravitational force that affects only objects from its own atmosphere. If a person from Planet A ("Down Below") travels to Planet B ("Up Top"), for instance, they will still be pulled toward their own planet. Oh, and if they spend more than two hours on the other planet, they will burst into flames. Naturally, these rock-solid scientific barriers do not prevent Adam (Jim Sturgess), from Down Below, falling in love with Eden (Kirsten Dunst), from Up Top.
While Upside Down's convoluted and whimsical premise may be tough to swallow for some, Solanas' visual execution of it is consistently clever and appealing, even if it seems like the saturated, high-contrast cinematography is a tactic designed to mask a special effects budget that wasn't quite as big as the director's vision. More importantly, however, is that the romantic focus of Upside Down saves it from the usual, dreary class-based dystopianism that informs Solanas' conception of Down Below and Up Top. While this trite formulation plays its part in Upside Down's world-building, it's mostly as background to Boyano's infectiously unreserved commitment to the love story at the heart of the movie, which nears but does not enter mawkish territory, and only turns downright silly on a couple of occasions.
Adam's unkempt dopiness is refreshing for a sci-fi protagonist, even if Sturgess' narration is a touch too breathless and his hair is nearly a parody of the curated bed-head look. Dunst knows all the tics playing a romantic lead and pulls them off flawlessly, and her measured performance deserves a lot of credit for anchoring Upside Down when it's most in danger of floating away. While the script ends abruptly, and too neatly, with previously serious conflicts virtually dissolving in golden hour sunlight, if it had gone on any longer it surely would've gotten itself in trouble. As a date-night variation on a genre that is too often mired in ham-fisted cries of revolution and effects-heavy battle scenes, Upside Down light, simple, and just original enough, and seems to know its limits.
Upside Down was brought to my Potluck Film Fest by Andrew Kendall, who can be found on Flickchart under the username mistwhisper117. He ranks it on his Flickchart at #41 (96%, out of 1072 movies) and although it's only ranked as his 8th favorite science fiction movie from this decade, he has 15 movies that fit that criteria inside his Top 100. On my chart, Upside Down ranked at #1803 (52%), where it's my 40th favorite science fiction movie from the 2010s (none of which are in my Top 100).
Notes on Upside Down (2012)
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