‘Upside Down’ movie review: Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturgess fight gravity in odd sci-fi

The opening narration is key to understanding Upside Down: in a tone so emphatic that I can only compare it to the Double Rainbow guy, Jim Sturgess attempts to explain the ridiculous physics of ‘double gravity’ and parallel planets that co-exist but do not affect the gravitational pull of each other (or their inhabitants!) Before the film had even properly begun, I was chortling.

The concept – or rather, the attempt to explain it in such vivid detail, and then still not play by its own rules – is the one thing that sinks Upside Down. And boy does it sink it. That’s a shame, because the rest of the film is extremely well-done: gorgeously designed and shot (by Pierre Gill) with empathetic performances by Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst as young lovers separated by gravity.

Before I get into this, I should say that Upside Down is the good kind of bad movie: it looks great, it’s never boring, and it wants you to like it. Most importantly, it has that special sort of genial charm that makes it impossible to really dislike, despite all the nonsense. 

But oh, what nonsense! I feel like I need a diagram to begin to explain what’s wrong with Upside Down. The film itself, in a vain attempt to explain how this world works, begins with a diagram of two parallel planets revolving around a sun. 

The planets never revolve around themselves: they remain so stationary that a massive building connects them both at the center, surrounded by an ‘affluent’ city on the top planet, and a ‘poor’ city on the lower planet. This poor city is always referred to as ‘down there’, even though, from the point of view of the top planet, it is directly above them. But this is the least of the film’s logical concerns. 

I struggled to imagine how this double-planet structure would revolve around a sun. Best guess: it spins around like a yoyo, with a slight wobble to simulate the night/day conditions as seen in the film (of course, in the film’s daytime, scenes, people and objects cast shadows as if the sun is directly above them, which is impossible in this world). If I’m making any sense at this point, I have failed to paint an accurate picture of what watching the film is like. 

Now, double gravity! Three rules. First, all matter is pulled toward the world it comes from. If you’re from the bottom planet, the top planet has no gravitational effect on you or your matter whatsoever; you’ll always be pulled towards your home planet. 

This is exemplified by a scene where Adam (Sturgess) attempts to relieve himself while on the opposite planet, and his urine flies up to the ceiling. Of course, the restroom has ceiling alarms to detect upside down urine; because, why wouldn’t it?

Now how did Adam get to the opposite planet? Rule number two, inverse matter: you can use matter from the opposite planet to offset your weight. For Adam, this involves long periods of walking (and running, and jumping) upside down using weights from the other planet; I can only infer that he takes some medication to prevent blood from rushing to his head and passing out, and uses an excellent hair product. 

He just has to watch out for rule number three, which states that matter and inverse matter, when combined for, oh, let’s say a few hours, will burst into flames for some reason. 

Sounds scary. Why does Adam risk it? Because Eden (Kirsten Dunst), the girl of his dreams, lives on the top planet. And has amnesia and can’t quite remember him, and he needs to win her heart back. At its core, Upside Down is a silly, conventional romance, surrounded by so much pseudo-sci-fi that the film has trouble keeping up with itself.

Take, for instance, a scene where Adam and Eden (I see what they’ve done with the names there. Clever.) are floating around between worlds, using each other’s gravity to balance themselves out. Suddenly, there’s external conflict. Adam is falling off a cliff, and Eden struggles to hold on to him. What’s wrong with this logic? 

Oh yes, that external conflict: men with rifles and dogs, right out of a WWII drama, who show up every time the lovers are together to hunt them down for some reason. Why do they care? Why is contact between worlds so forbidden when they work next to each other, literally, in the giant office building? I’ll let you answer that one. 

Upside Down is a joke of a science fiction film, and one heck of a cornball romance, but it’s the best kind of bad movie: entertaining all the way through, if for no other reason than to pick apart everything that’s wrong with it. There’s certainly no shortage of that, if you’re in the right kind of mood. 


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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