Up in the Air!


“Up in The Air” is a good movie. This must be understood or nothing wonderful can come from this review.  Pure and simple, it is a good movie, burdened by being pinned into being an Oscar Contender and bordering on exploitation at certain points with its subject matter, while never managing to go too far across the border.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, who is a charming, Brooks Brothers type…basically, a guy George Clooney is born to play. And he fires people.  This is what he does.  Of course, this is topical now, and the Reitman family knows it, as do the cast and crew, so what do they do with that?  This is sensitive material here.

In a way, I feel that this film has been burdened with the beast that is the buzz that it is the Oscar front runner.  So where as one might come in and watch the film and see it as simply a decent way to spend two hours, and forgive its genre cliché and written-by-committee score.  But this movie has been labeled IMPORTANT and a CONTENDER.  So, we can’t watch it like your typical date night movie. And that’s where it falls short.  It doesn’t have the legs to live up to the hype.  And that’s too bad, because it is a fun watch. So  just watch George Clooney evaluate life and meet the girl that could perhaps, oh yes maybe, change all that. 

And that’s where “Up In The Air” manages to get interesting.  It skirts so close to that movie we’ve seen so many times before that it actually at times BECOMES that movie, but than it turns the Rubiks Cube just a hair and we realize we don’t have it figured out.  Maybe she isn’t the girl for him, maybe she’s a wake up call.  Maybe she isn’t a wakeup call, maybe she just happens to be the girl he’s involved with when the wake up call occurs.  Maybe it isn’t even about their relationship at all.

The story is simple.  George Clooney is hired to fire people.  It’s what he does and he’s good at it.  And director Jason Reitman involves plenty of scenes that show there is something special about him and his work.  Witness the scene where his new apprentice attempts to fire J.K. Simmons.  And witness how George as Ryan, with just minor research spins things.  He certainly doesn’t take the sting out—they have just fired him—but he gently places the blame on J.K. for all the opportunities he missed for this job that he never really wanted in the first place—and now doesn’t have.

He lives in a vacuum, or more accurately, in an airplane.  But his business is quickly changing—soon they will fire over the world wide web, wonderful world we live in.  So he’s on his last tour, with the little girl who designed the program that will eventually make him null.  And his sister is getting married.  And he realizes that he has given up his family, and involved himself in the simple life of his work.  And now his work could be leaving him.

I go back and forth at whether the film is opportunist with its involvement with the job crisis—after all, what insight does it really offer into the situation?  The film isn’t about it, it is about the man…and his job is this one, although it could be another similar one…like public speaking (which he does).  But, it does offer atmosphere and a booming environment for folks like Ryan Bingham, and if Reitman and co. paid these recently fired (word on the street is most of the folks that air their grievances during the fired montage are truly fired folks) for their words and pain, than at least there is that.

Jason Reitman is the film critics darling right now.  Son of Ivan Reitman (director of “Ghostbusters,” producer of “Up in The Air”) he has been able to enter the world of cinema effectively and make wise choices in topics, and while surely using his father as an entry point, he has more than proven himself a capable filmmaker in his own right.  Of his three films, I’ve adored none, but I am in a minority.  I have appreciated all three (“Juno,” his most acclaimed, the least). They are all smart, mainstream, and relatively safe.  Well, Reitman, my boy, you have the audience and critics alike behind you back.  Go on, take a chance.  Worst case scenario if it backfires…they are still in development for “Ghostbusters 3.”

2 Responses to “Up in the Air!”

  1. thepresentkingoffrance Says:

    I’m not ambivalent about Up In The Air’s opportunism in its treatment (or lack thereof) of the job crisis issue. I’m still sulking about this movie. It’s not good. It’s not even bad. It’s just ok. Enjoyable and forgettable. Here are my gripes:

    1. The movie alludes to an important and timely topic without really saying anything meaningful about it. It may be, perhaps, cathartic for the recently fired to watch others like themselves. More likely, it is insulting in what amounts to no more than a display of their misery. We leave the victims at the moment of their termination. We learn nothing. We are charmed by the prophet of doom. We become involved in his paltry, self-absorbed lifestyle.

    2. Of course George Clooney is a pleasure to watch, as always, but I’m either very sheltered or Ryan Bingham is an unbelievable character. In fact, it’s important to the story that Ryan Bingham’s goals and way of life are exceptional. So, while we follow him to a deep realization about himself, I’m not sure who or what this realization is intended to speak to. His grand insight into his life is the cliché of all clichés.

    3. Speaking of cliché movie moments- Yes, that all-too-familiar movie moment was turned on its head. But far from being brilliant, appreciation of it required our being pulled out of the movie to appreciate, at some meta-level, how clever our filmmaker was to mislead us that way.

    …I’m not even going to mention the music.

    I don’t often groan out loud at a movie. I did at this one. More than once. I don’t think it was simply due to the letdown from the Oscar buzz. (or those drinks)

    It is, overall, enjoyable though. Loved Anna Kendrick in this role. I always love Vera Farmiga (I think I have a girl-crush), and who doesn’t love George Clooney in any role?

    But it aint good.

    • thefilmhistorian Says:

      From my response on: thefilmhistorian.wordpress.com:

      Interesting thoughts on “Up in The Air.” My response, whether I believe it or not goes as…

      1. Movies do this to seem “timely” and this movie wants to be a movie “of its time” and it worked. Look at the critically responses. The movie is showing a booming business in a world of layoffs. After all, who is thriving when everything seems to be going to hell job wise? Why, George Clooney’s company.

      But I do seriously agree with you, as it doesn’t seem to add much value. If you take a look at the “timely” “Lakeview Terrace,” it utilizes the CA forest fires in a similar vein, except it incorporates it rather than simply stirring it into the pot. The forest fires become a motif and in fact invoke the inner tensions of the characters, which start as a flame (when the couple first moves in) and explodes into a fury…as the fires enguly their little Lakeview Terrace.

      If anything, one can argue it humanizes Clooney’s characters. We instantly sympathize with these folks (they are primarily real) and Clooney seems to actually care about what he does. Just like they probably did. Even if it wasn’t what they planned. But…you know I actually tend to side with you. More likely, Reitman just doesn’t come from the world that he is writing about. Maybe that is why I find a distance in all 3 of his films. At 32 he seems to have consistently done what he wants (his father is Ivan Reitman–“Dad, I wanna make a movie!”.) I don’t think he entirely understands his characters, and a lot of the grievences come from him not actually understanding. The job crisis is topical, not real. Which brings me to…

      2. I agree. George Clooney plays a cliched movie character that exists so that the movie can happen to him and he can have his “movie moments” (it pains me that I can’t say indie film moments–his moments are all too mainstream).

      3, Heehee. Meta.

      Other than that I think we agree on this movie’s place. But, be aware, we are in a minority.

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