Maybe it’s the big screen TV, maybe it’s life’s complications, but I don’t get out to the movie theatres much anymore. I usually get to see films right after they hit the DVD market, in the comfort of my own home. It’s more convenient, the food is better, the bathrooms are cleaner and if anyone does dare to talk or let their cell phone blurt out an obnoxious ringtone, I can pan back and replay what I missed.
But I sacrificed all that to catch Up in the Air the other day (no food, no bathroom need, some talking and yes, an idiot’s ringtone). I like George Clooney – he’s the Cary Grant of his era – and the cast was peppered with the likes of Jason Bateman (wonderfully smarmy again), J.K. Simmons, Sam Elliot, Zach Galifanakis and Danny McBride. It was entertaining and thankfully didn’t follow the typical Hollywood plot paths, but I’m not certain it was anything more than just a good day at the movies.
The plot centers on Clooney, whose character is a corporate terminator, hired by firms to downsize their employees. Comfortable in his non-existence, his Ryan Bingham is happy to eschew the real world as he pursues his singular goal of racking up a million air miles, with the occasional speaking engagement and harmless fling along the way. He’s very good at handling people one-on-one but we quickly learn that his script for these encounters is as pat as his presentation for his yet-unwritten self-help book “What’s in Your Backpack”.
Life then decides to intervene. He meets a woman who might be his soul mate (a wonderful Vera Farmiga), his company is about to use web conferencing to replace personal travel, and he’s about to get in a little deeper with a family he’s all but ignored during his adult life. Most of the events find him hitting the road with the new business school graduate (Anna Kendrick) to show her the ropes in an effort to convince her that technology can’t replace human contact. Ironic, since the only human contact Bingham has is with the people he’s firing.
Without spoiling the plot, these diversions are played well for the most part, avoiding the usual clichés and in some cases surprising you with the turns taken. By the end of the picture, each of the three major characters is affected in some way, but perhaps not changed. As a viewer, I felt the same emotional distance; I observed behavior but never felt like a participant.
Interestingly, director Jason Reitman interviewed unemployed people about their reactions and feelings – reportedly more than one of the cameo interviewees is a real person – in an effort to shine a light on what is a tough time in the nation’s economy. Not certain he succeeded there; while some segments are powerfully poignant, others are played for almost comic relief. And I think that might be my overall problem with the picture, too – what is he shooting for?
Up in the Air isn’t a feel-good picture, but then again it is in a way. It’s a drama with comedic elements, but also a comedy with some very pensive relationships and scenes. But does it ever…I dunno…move me in a big way? I was entertained, but I don’t think anything resonated after I left the theatre
Best Picture? Boy, I don’t know. I’d like to think the best picture of any year is more important, grander, more epic. (Then again, American Beauty wasn’t exactly Citizen Kane.) And when I look back at their respective years, I still think his most recent directorial efforts (Juno and Thank You for Smoking) hold up pretty damn well. Stranger things have happened.
Up In The Air at IMDB.com