Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Up in the Air (2009)


Hired out to companies in order to fire people, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) has made a career out of constantly being on the move, and feels most comfortable away from home. One day he is asked to take along new company employee Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) who seeks to redesign the way Ryan does things, using webcams to fire people, and in turn cutting on traveling costs. Fearing what this could mean for his way of life, Ryan makes it his job to show her the real importance of what he does, while he deals with a blossoming romance with fellow air traveler Alex (Vera Farmiga)

Having gained massive oscar buzz in recent weeks, it's no surprise that Reitman's latest film has captured the eyes of critics nationwide. Much like Slumdog Millionaire Up in the Air is a film about modern times, it represents our personal struggles in its own way, and as such gains the heart of many followers, despite not necessarily being the best film of the year. Overall Up in the Air gave me very much the same vibe I got when watching Sam Mendes' Away We Go earlier this year. I laughed, cried, and felt a strong emotional pull towards the main characters, but it never managed to go so far as a strong connection.

At its heart Up in the Air is about what you really want out of life, and if you're willing to take the actual steps in order to gain it. The main characters are each running away from something, whether it be family, the life they dreamed of, or otherwise, and it's that connection that draws them towards one another. Each has a secret, something they don't want the other to know because it may give off a sign of weakness, unhappiness, or some other mental assumption they may fear. Though in the end we all know we'll have to address it at some point. This is where Reitman's knack for directing comes in. He's no master storyteller, they're inventive but never self sufficient, and here Reitman utilizes witty dialogue (a commonality among his leading characters), dark oddball humor, and a little bit of romance to get the message across.

Reitman also wonderfully inter-cuts real life stories of being fired from people willing to share them. These stories serve as a backdrop to the current world situation these characters reside in. Up in the Air serves to be both an escape and a reminder of our economy. It's funny, off the wall, at times romantic, but most of all entertaining. It approaches all of our world issues with a sense of jest, humor, and distance. It doesn't want to delve deep into the heart of them, but it's not willing to idly brush them over and move on. In that respect it makes for a highly entertaining experience, leaving the viewer with a little bit of everything.

Of course Reitman's film would be nowhere without its cast. George Clooney plays what I can only describe as the sort of "ultimate Clooney," a complete mix of all the best Clooney caricature attributes to date. While Kendrick and Farmiga balance Clooney's pessimistic, smartass, character but they never match him, and therefore they're constantly a step behind. In order to sanctify this, and not make it a one man show, Reitman riddles the film with small cameo appearances from J.K. Simmons, Sam Elliot, Danny McBride, and Zach Galifianakis. While these are nice I sometimes feel they take away the levity from certain emotional moments, of course that could be the point. While I'm not sure I really liked it, I'm always in favor of screen time for Simmons and Elliot, regardless of the film.

Though of course what is a film without its ending. Here Reitman tosses us a mixed bag. It's not what we want, nor perhaps what the film leads us to desire, but I'm not sure I would argue it's not a correct ending. By that I mean the characters take paths fitting with their the way they are developed, but it feels all too rushed. As if Reitman simply hit a page number he intended, and said "time to end it." Sure there were signs along the way it was going to go this way, but I have to admit when it came much of the audience sat in the theater waiting for another scene. Granted a mediocre ending is no reason to bash an entire film. Up in the Air is still a solid installment in the Jason Reitman repertoire, one that will appeal to fans and non-fans alike.

While I'm not sold it's the best film of the year, Up in the Air is a captivating dramady, riddled with real looks at the different paths our lives can take, and the issues we must face.

4 better thoughts:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Hmm. Still not really hyped about this except for Farmiga. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.

The Mad Hatter said...

I'm with you - this isn't a perfect film, but it's still pretty freakin' good. I would have ended it about ten minutes before it actually ends...end it on Clooney drinking in his hotel room.


filmgeek said...

Damn you guys for getting to see all these awesome films before me. I think I need to move...

CMrok93 said...

A well-acted piece about a man's inability to cope with a world more real than the one he lives. And the screenplay just keeps on getting better and better. Nice review, check out mine when you can!

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