COVID’s an inconvenience for the privileged folks of ‘Life Upside Down’

Bob Odenkirk stars in wryly effective social satire set during the pandemic.

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A married gallery owner (Bob Odenkirk) is having an affair with a college instructor (Radha Mitchell) in “Life Upside Down.”

IFC Films

Over the last three years we’ve seen any number of movies filmed during the pandemic that were ABOUT the pandemic, from the Katie Holmes romance drama “7 Days” to the couple-in-crisis domestic tale “Together” with James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan to Judd Apatow’s ambitious but not-good disaster movie spoof “The Bubble,” among many others. I’m not sure there’s much more of an appetite for these inward-looking, COVID-set films anymore, but if you’re up for it, writer-director Cecilia Miniucchi’s “Life Upside Down” is a slight but wryly effective, upper-class social satire with winning performances from a cast including Bob Odenkirk, Radha Mitchell and Danny Huston.

Filmed remotely (save for the first and last scenes) in Los Angeles using computers, iPads and iPhones during the lockdown in May and June of 2020, “Life Upside Down” feels like the kind of pandemic movie Woody Allen would have made, what with its sharp dialogue and its focus on artists and writers and college teachers and their romantic entanglements.

All of the main characters are together in the opening scene, which takes place at a gallery showing by Odenkirk’s Jonathan, a slightly smarmy type in a stupid hat. (Jonathan could be the next iteration of Saul Goodman, had Saul/Gene escaped and reinvented himself in Los Angeles.) Also in attendance: Jonathan’s wife, Sue (Jeanie Lim); his mistress, Clarissa (Radha Mitchell); the wealthy and successful author Paul (Danny Huston), who is Clarissa’s longtime friend and mentor, and Paul’s younger wife, Rita (Rosie Fellner).

After the pandemic hits, it’s lockdown time. Jonathan tries desperately to get some computer face time or maybe even set up an in-person visit with Clarissa, who is now teaching her students via laptop. The affable but comically self-consumed Paul is unaware of his constant undercutting of Rita, as when she compliments him on the “beautiful piece of classical” he’s playing on the grand piano and Paul says, “It’s not classical, it’s jazz,” to which Rita responds, “I can never get it right with you.” Pay attention, Paul. There’s a reason why Rita can’t wait to go out on a long run every day.

‘Life Upside Down’


IFC Films presents a film written and directed by Cecilia Miniucchi. No MPAA rating. Running time: 88 minutes. Now showing at the Wilmette Theatre.

“Life Upside Down” is actually a pretty good-looking film considering how most of it was shot with phones and tablets — though it’s curious how the character of Sue is almost always seen from behind or heard from off-camera. (Indeed, the credits tell us another actor sometimes stood in for Jeanie Lim.) There are some pandemic references that already seem almost quaintly amusing, e.g., Clarissa receiving a pasta maker as a birthday present because so many people of certain means were into making bread or pasta, or taking Peloton classes, in those early days.

Although we hear audio of news reports from time to time, these privileged characters aren’t the least bit concerned with the horrific and tragic upheaval taking place outside their well-appointed walls. They’re more concerned with their own and admittedly legitimate problems, whether it’s Jonathan trying to stave off closing the gallery forever, Clarissa trying to wean herself from her destructive affair with Jonathan, or Paul and Rita finally being honest with one another about the major problems in their relationship, despite all the “I love you’s” they toss to one another.

Stick around after the credits for a coda set after the initial credits, in which we catch up with the main players in October 2022. It feels as if they’re all exactly where they should be.

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