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Dustin Putman

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Upside Down  (2013)
3 Stars
Directed by Juan Solanas.
Cast: Jim Strurgess, Kirsten Dunst, Timothy Spall, Agnieshka Wnorowska, Neil Napier, Frank M. Ahearn.
2013 – 100 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for some violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 11, 2013.
If one of the virtually countless purposes of cinema is to show audiences things they have never seen before, then "Upside Down" is already ahead of the game from the very first frame. Like a more imaginative "Inception" if that film's dreams were a reality and all of the money shots hadn't been egregiously given away in the trailers, this $60-million, independently-produced sci-fi/romance from Argentinean writer-director Juan Solanas is so bold and unapologetic that one can easily overlook its screenwriting deficiencies and leaps in logic. A cathartic journey of emotion rather than intellect, the picture entrenches the viewer in an entirely new world, then continues to one-up itself with awe-inspiring imagery and death-defying feats that should have one's heart temporarily jumping into his or her throat time and again.

Jim Sturgess (2012's "Cloud Atlas") and Kirsten Dunst (2011's "Melancholia") star as Adam and Eden, star-crossed souls fated to fall in love since they met each other as kids. There is just one very large problem: they live on separate planets, one rich in progress and the other less so, revolving simultaneously around the same sun. Living on top of each other, they are pulled in opposite directions by their world's gravity. When an accident occurs during Eden's attempt as a teenager to climb down to Adam at the peak of snowy Sage Mountain, her memories—including that of Adam—are wiped clean. Ten years later, Adam rediscovers Eden's whereabouts and seeks to get a job near hers at Transworld, the sole company physically adjoining the two planets. Though the populations are forbidden to communicate, Adam devises a dangerous plan to reach Eden, one involving stolen identities, magnetic braces and a special pink solution that inverts matter. It's his one and only hope in finally getting her to remember the bond they once shared.

"Upside Down" opens with an explanation of its multiple twinned lands and a brief introduction of its lead protagonists, all delivered via a voiceover narration that falls into the trap of too blatantly telling rather than showing. This rocky beginning is less than eloquent—the visuals alone are enough to explain to viewers what they need to know—but it concludes soon enough as Adam and Eden take over the narrative and writer-director Juan Salanas digs further into their individual circumstances within a specifically foreign landscape. Equipped with often startling effects wizardry that quite literally seems to stack one planet upside down over another, the film gyrates with fresh sights and thrilling vistas as Adam endeavors to flip himself and interlope upon Eden's respective planet with no one finding out. From a sky tram that carries guests to a cliffside restaurant—this is where the two of them share their first lunch date—to the lakes, mountains and city skyrises that mimic each other above and below, the very act of watching "Upside Down" is a trippy experience, one that continues to build momentum the deeper Adam gets in over his head.

Shimmers of "Romeo and Juliet" outline the forbidden love affair between Adam and Eden, the laws of their planets and the communication between the two of them standing in for family relations at war. Their courtship could have been built upon from what is there, with more scenes concentrating on the connection they share despite their very gravity tearing them apart, but Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst nonetheless sell it. Sturgess' desperation—his need to find Eden and to get her to remember what they once had—weighs heavily on his existence, as any great love might. Without her, there is less meaning for him and his life. As Eden, Dunst is wonderful with the more reactive role; living on the more privileged, well-to-do planet up above, her job requires that she not remember Adam due to her past injuries, yet sense that he's telling the truth and fall for him all over again. Also turning up in a critical supporting role, Timothy Spall (2012's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2") plays Bob, a co-worker at Transworld living on the same planet as Eden who allows Adam to use his identity to get closer to her.

Physicists and astronomers will likely have a field day tearing "Upside Down" apart, explaining how this or that couldn't really happen, but the key thing to remember is that this is, first and foremost, a fantasy. It doesn't matter how much of the premise is plausible from a real-world point-of-view because it's not the real world; it's a film that chooses to create its own rules. As such, writer-director Juan Salanas has helmed an imperfect but perfectly gorgeous experience, a motion picture of quite literal cosmic enlightenment with the creativity and gall to put most run-of-the-mill movie releases to shame. Even in those rare moments when it doesn't live up to its ambitions, "Upside Down" is fresh and frequently amazing, a film you don't watch so much as you happily drink in.
© 2013 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman