Life Upside Down, 2023.
Written and Directed by Cecilia Miniucchi.
Starring Bob Odenkirk, Radha Mitchell, Danny Huston, Rosie Fellner, Cyrus Palhavi, Terence Bernie Hines, Jeanie Lim, and Crispian Belfrage.
Three couples who know one another are stuck at home during the beginning of lockdown. Jonathan, Clarissa and Paul will see their lives turned upside-down, forced to look at each other and ultimately at themselves.
Most lockdown pandemic-era flicks are well-intentioned, reflecting real human emotions during that stressful and anxious time. However, plenty of them, including writer and director Cecilia Miniucchi’s Life Upside Down, stumbles while struggling to grapple with the emotional complexities of various character dynamics.
Due to filming everything but the first and last scenes using computers, smartphones, and tablets, there is also something undeniably offbeat regarding the performances that render turns from reliable veterans like Bob Odenkirk and Danny Huston unconvincing.
Life Upside Down also has a bigger hurdle in that, while the entire point of the film is that these characters will face introspection through loneliness and come to their senses regarding several questionable life choices, they aren’t likable or endearing. Even when characters begin smartening up, they still aren’t interesting to be around, partially because the shifting character dynamics don’t feel earned and are too cleanly constructed. There is also no cinematic flair or excitement to the proceedings. This is the kind of movie where everything works out for the best despite characters betraying and hurting one another.
The opening scene before the infamous March 2020 lockdown introduces the key characters and couples at Jonathan Wigglesworth’s (Bob Odenkirk) brand-new art gallery installation, alongside his mistress Clarissa Cranes (Radha Mitchell), her married friends Paul and Rita (Danny Huston and Rosie Fellner), and a surprise appearance from Jonathan’s wife (Jeanie Lim), who is strangely heard off-camera for much of the film.
Naturally, Jonathan is excited about some potential sales, which are quickly put on hold given COVID shutting down the gallery. Therein lies another failure; the filmmakers never elicit a strong desire to see Jonathan succeed against these odds because the script is mostly concerned with abstract paintings as a metaphor for further analyzing our own lives during isolation.
The plot also hinges on viewers sympathizing with self-absorbed characters cheating on each other, which doesn’t work since the performances, motives, and personalities are all quite bland. Every character here is one-note; Jonathan is stuck between pulling back on craving physical affection for Clarissa as lockdown slowly pieces back together his marriage with a wonderful woman that he frustratingly takes for granted, Paul is a pretentious intellectual unaware of how often he puts down his much younger wife Rita, Clarissa is searching for meaningful romance in the wrong place while a tenant adorably expresses his interest from behind glass walls, and Rita frequently takes walks to get away from Paul’s stuffiness.
At one point, a character states, “we’re going in circles,” and it’s hard not to feel the same way about Life Upside Down. The film isn’t constrained by remote filmmaking in its attempt to explore these intriguing character dynamics but fails at shaking these characters with depth. It’s an admirable exercise, but ultimately, one lacking in characterization.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com