Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Different Looking Romance

Upside Down, directed by Juan Solanas, is a film that takes a time-honored story - that of Romeo and Juliet - and places it in a visually stunning futuristic world. It's a perfectly watchable piece of work with a few moments of inspiration, but in the final analysis, it's a bit of a disappointment, despite its uniqueness.

The premise of the story, we are told in the title sequence, is that the characters inhabit a world of dual gravity. It then becomes a conflict between the haves - those from the upper world, known as Up Top - and the have nots - the ones from the bottom level, Down Below. The ones at the bottom - including Adam (Jim Sturgess) who narrates the opening sequence - have been put there by the evil (make that EVIL in capital letters) conglomerate Trans World, whose corporate tower connects the two worlds.

Eden (Kirsten Dunst) lives in the upper world, one of great natural splendor, as opposed to the dark, gritty reality of the underworld. The two of them meet as young children and are immediately attracted to each other; romance between the two worlds cannot exist, so their meeting is broken up by the authorities.

The storyline then jumps ten years, which is when the film becomes more involving. Adam discovers that Eden works at Transworld, so following his heart, he knows he must take a job there, if he has the smallest chance to rekindle their romance. The set piece here is the main work place, which is divided into two horizontal halves- with the worker bees if you will, (bees are a theme here) from the underworld sitting on their level, while the employees from the upper world sit on top - who we see right side up and upside down in any one scene depends on the point of view that is being shown and it's a nicely done device, one that in my opinion is not overdone. There's also a nicely conceived shot of the elevator panel that displays the various floors (from negative to positive) sideways and not up and down, as up belongs to the treasured employees, while down is about the entry level workers that generally do most of the creative stuff that management takes credit for- so what else is new?

There are some other nice visuals as well, including the memorably designed ballroom as well as the eclectic restaurant where Adam and Eden have lunch. The two characters are individuals, first and foremost and if their embodiment in the screenplay is not exactly three-dimensional, well, I can forgive that to a certain degree, given the human spirit versus corporate greed angle of the story. Kirsten Dunst is not exactly given a meaty role here, but she's quite good, charming as ever and absolutely beautiful. As Adam, Jim Sturgess has a certain charisma that's fine, but his acting here depends too much on his "aw, shucks" reactions, as he turns his head and shrugs his shoulders to emphasize his uncertainty. The only other role of note is that of Bob Boruchowitz (Timothy Spall), a member of middle management, who literally overlooks (thanks to the upside down visuals) Adam's work and hatches a plot to help Adam prosper; Spall plays the role with a nice gruffy, matter-of-factness. (Additional note: There is only one black character in the film and he's not in the upper world. Were the creators of this film trying to add social commentary to this romance? It's worth a discussion, one that has gone largely unnoticed by most critics.)

As I mentioned at the start of this review, this is a perfectly watchable film and it certainly has its heart in the right place. But it's a rather trivial piece of movie making, despite the remarkable amount of post-production work that went into it. These days, we expect some pretty special visuals in just about every film, even if it doesn't deal with futuristic sets. But a movie needs a lot more than fancy images to capture our hearts. Certainly Life of Pi was dependent on a great amount of CGI work, yet it's a marvelous film, thanks to the religious aspect of the story and screenplay as well as the intelligent direction of Ang Lee. Upside Down would have been a lot better film if the same amount of effort that is evident in the production design and special effects had been instilled in the screenplay. As it is, it's a movie with a few nice moments; I just wish it had been a little more involving.

Photos courtesy of Millennium Entertainment