The new science-fiction film Upside Down is an old-fashioned movie romance of forbidden love, and it is somewhat refreshing in its examination of the material.  It uses one of the oldest plot devices in the book – keep the leads separated by external circumstances – with a fresh sci-fi twist.  Juan Solanas’s film defiantly takes an interesting approach. Adam (Jim Sturguss) and Eden (Kirsten Dunst) play star-crossed lovers kept apart by twin planets with “opposite gravity.”  Adam and Eden aren’t just separated by planetary physics, but by a strict social structure and political system – each side is forbidden to journey to the opposite side. Much of the politics of the planets are wisely sidestepped, which focuses the story on the two leads.

The planets are so close that their highest mountain peaks almost touch, and this is where Adam and Eden (yes this movie isn’t subtle with its themes) meet as children. As teenagers they meet cute by lowering each other down by ropes from the gravity of their native planets. In a few magical scenes they meet in the middle, sharing a kiss that’s reminiscent of Dunst’s famous upside down Spiderman smooch. Their romantic bliss is quickly put to an end when during one of these meetings the border patrol attacks them, and Eden falls back to her own world in which she takes a nasty fall. Adam assumes she’s dead.

Ten years later Adam learns that Eden is alive and well, working at TransWorld, the powerful private corporation that connects the two worlds. Adam, who has become a brilliant scientist, gets a job at TransWorld developing a gravity-neutralizing face-lift cream. Using weights that anchor him to the planets gravitational pull, Adam meets up with Eden and discovers she has suffered memory loss from her fall and can’t remember him. Through the ensuing course of events Adam must make Eden fall in love with him a second time, and hopefully jog her lost memories of their past romance.

In a short description, the movie sounds like a pretty straightforward love story, which it most definitely is. What makes it fascinating is the visceral approach to the premise of two worlds existing within hundreds of feet of each other. Almost like staring at a beautiful landscape photograph, the film is absorbing to look at. Visually, there hasn’t been anything done quite like it.  We’ve seen landscape and perspective played within films like Inception, but in Upside Down, the flip-flopping worlds feels fully realized as a reality by the sharp art direction and visual effects.  It proves what can be done in a modest sci-fi film like this.

However, outside of the beautiful visuals, the film as a whole is a little rickety. The over-enunciated and pieced-together voiceover by Sturguss feels unnecessary as a storytelling device, and the film runs out of steam in the the third act’s resolution. That aside, the film is a thoughtful approach to the standard Romeo and Juliet formula. It’s great to see a director like Solanas literally reach for the stars.