Monday, December 28, 2009


The best way to see Up In The Air is to go with absolutely no preconceived notions. Don't listen to all the best picture of the year hoopla or how brilliant the script is, just go and watch it completely uninformed. I say this because about ninety percent of what I heard or read on Up In The Air simply isn't true. It's not the best picture of the year by a long shot and the script isn't brilliant it's actually kind of obvious and flawed.

All that being said Up In The Air is a really enjoyable movie with awesome performances, a movie I would probably have liked even more if I hadn't been so gung ho to see the greatest movie this year. This is another film drawn from the pages of a book though I'm not sure if the novel suffers from the same flaws as the script does. Director Jason Reitman (who co-wrote the script) has no sense of discovery in Up In The Air, everything that's going to happen is pretty much laid out by halfway through the film.

Up In The Air is the story of Ryan Bingam (George Clooney) a man who flies all around the country firing people for bosses too cowardly to do so themselves. He loves his life of flying 300 plus days a year and living hub to hub with no personal connections to ruin it. From the very start Reitman hits us with the symbolism in a heavy handed manner. Bingham packing everything into a little suitcase, his personal speaking engagements where he tells the audience to symbolically stuff all they own into a backpack in order to see how it weights you down etc, etc. Okay, we get it, Bingham's perfect little life isn't going to be perfect for long.

Just in case that symbolism wasn't enough enter the two sisters, one of whom is getting married. Bingham isn't close to them and he doesn't see them much, a fact we could have picked up on without the scene telling us all this. Hiss kooky sister has cut out a big photo of herself and her fiance that she has people holding up in front of famous places so it looks like they were there. Bingham being a traveler is asked to take some shots. When he tries to put the plus sized photo into his suitcase it doesn't fit.

Did you catch the symbolism there?

As the film progresses Bingham is forced to reevaluate his ideas on life on both a professional business level. Business wise he's forced to deal with the changing way his company wants to fire people and a new young upstart named Anna Kendrick (Natalie Kenner) who Bingham takes along so she can learn the ropes. Ahhhh, the second hitch in his neat little life, the symbolism grows even wider.

The personal front is in the form of Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) a beautiful business-type who is essentially the female version of Bingham. They meet and begin a relationship that will put his I-want-to-be-alone idealism to the ultimate test. What director Reitman does in the first forty minutes is set everything up like a chess game instead of a film. Nothing seems to be growing naturally a problem Reitman also had directing Juno where he set up the pins to knock them down instead of building characters for the film.

The main problem I have with Up In The Air is that once the pieces are in place you can see how they will play out no matter how hard you try to deny it. You know how the family issue will end up, how the relationship with young upstart Anna will resolve itself, you can even see the curve in the road involving Alex Goran if you've ever been to a movie. Once those things are figured out the rest of the film sort of loses its purpose and you begin checking your watch or moving around in your seat.

What's worse is the curve in the road with Alex involves so many jumps in logic that the entire relationship seems more like a set up for the end than anything else. The same can be said for the Anna resolution to the point there's even a scene that almost screams "NOW YOU KNOW WHAT'LL HAPPEN TO ANNA!!". Up In The Air feels as if somebody leaned over halfway through and said "Let me tell you how this movie ends".

However there is one very strong reason not to be too hard on Up In The Air and that is the performances. It could be sold that George Clooney's performance single handedly saves the movie. He is charming, smarmy, dignified and funny. You end up rooting for a guy who gives you every reason not to root for him.

Natalie Keener is awesome as the young upstart Anna Kendrick, a part which is not easy to play. Too much one way and you hate her and won't believe her resolution, too much the other and she becomes too likable to be believed as a young business shark. Keener also straddles the line between wordly entrepreneur and clueless young girl with little life experience. She never seems phony or ill at ease, instead simply melting into her character.

Jason Bateman is the "Robert Duvall from The Road" of Up In The Air. He's not on screen for long but when he is he totally owns it. Playing Bingham's asshole cutthroat boss Bateman is so enjoyable I wanted more of him and less of everything else. Even the bit parts of Bingham's sister are played beautifully.

The only one note performance is from Vera Farmiga as Alex Rogan and I think that's more of the design of her character than her acting chops. She isn't given much to do besides look sexy and toss out witty one liners, which is too bad because she gets swallowed up by everybody else.

All in all Up In The Air is a solid movie with some great moments and kick ass performances. Reitman needs to learn how to let a script breathe and allow for the nuances that make a film seem natural instead of set up. I will say this for him though, he does a great job of showing how hard lay offs hit people and makes each individual so real your heart bleeds for them. Up In The Air is a classic "rental" movie. It doesn't need to be viewed on the big screen and in smaller digs you can focus less on the many potholes and more on the amazing performances.

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