“Life Upside Down” is a pleasant enough and appropriately downbeat “COVID Lockdown Comedy” of no particular consequence.
As there have been so many rom-coms set during the height of the “shelter in place” era, it’s difficult to find something fresh to say about the strain of being apart/being thrown together that someone else hasn’t put into release before, and that dogs Cecilia Miniucchi’s film, start to finish.
The presence of a first-rate cast, headlined by Bob Odenkirk, Radha Mitchell and Danny Huston, is a saving grace, and if not quite the only one, it might as well have been.
The director of the parking cops comedy “Expired” takes us into a sort of Woody Allen Lite scenario, a couple of cultured couples and a well-educated single woman/college professor cope with isolation and the strains it puts on relationships, legally-bonded or illicit.
Its setting — houses ranging from nice to tastefully swank — underscores how the Allenesque, casually affluent world managed to get by with work and income shut down but fine food delivered to their doors and Zoom calls anchoring their socializing and canoodling.
Odenkirk is Jonathan, an abstract artist quite hot for the lovely blonde academic Clarissa (Mitchell), and not just because she’s hooked him up with an avid, well-heeled buyer, Paul (Huston).
But Jonathan is married, something we only figure out AFTER he and Clarissa have ducked into an gallery office for a chocolate-covered-strawberry quicky the afternoon of his latest opening. Jeanie Lim plays his unsuspecting wife, mother of “the twins,” who are grown and off at college.
Paul, a colleague of Clarissa’s, is married to a much younger woman (Rosie Fellner), something Clarissa teases him about.
“Life Upside Down” puts these two couples, and lonely Clarissa, through the major disruption of masks, gloves, isolation and enforced “social distancing,” which Paul labels “this strange moment, this forced ‘domesticity.'”
There isn’t much that’s comic to this, not much that plays as funny anyway. The predicament gags have Jonathan trying to steal some alone “screen” time with Clarissa, with his wife constantly underfoot.
Because they’re stuck at home together, remember?
The calls, texts and attempted Zoom sex hook-ups with the “client” he tells his wife is named “Mr. Marlowe” are airless and humorless.
Jonathan is watching his business wither and die, getting updates on the hole he’s digging by maintaining his gallery space from his no-nonsense accountant (Terence Bernie Hines).
Mitchell fares a little better, as she gets to play exasperated, jilted and disrespected by her college students who may be acting-out in Zoom classes because she’s constantly distracted, eager for her paramour’s latest call.
Clarissa has sublet her guest house to this odd duck (Cyrus Pahlavi) who is a little younger, a lot weirder and perpetually under-dressed. At some point, that dork is bound to start looking pretty good to a woman who turns 40 — alone — in lockdown.
There’s little that’s funny to any of this, and not much that’s emotional either.
The players make it watchable, but the whole enterprise feels dispirited, as if the cast realizes that even though this is a polished, slick production, even if this script had been hilarious, romantic and mean, they know it’ll never come out before two years of other movies made under similar conditions, often with better results.
Rating: unrated, sexual situations, profanity
Cast: Radha Mitchell, Bob Odenkirk, Danny Huston, Rosie Fellner, Terence Bernie Hines, Cyrus Pahlavi and Jeanie Lim
Credits: Scripted and directed by Cecilia Miniucchi. An IFC release.
Running time: 1:29