Trisha's Take: Up in the Air review

Up in the AirUp in the Air

Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman and more

With the economy just recovering from its second most epic meltdown of the modern age, I’m sure you’ll be wondering if going to see a movie where the protagonist fires people for a living is the smartest choice for your evening’s entertainment. And that’s where you’d be right.

Directed and co-written by Jason Reitman, Up in the Air is not an easy movie to watch. It follows the story of one Ryan Bingham, a “career transition consultant” whose job is to travel all over the country and do what every frightened Human Resources department is afraid to do: fire a whole lot of people all at one time. The job requires one to be impersonal, but engaging; compassionate, but uncaring. It’s requires the finesse of a salesman and the consummate skills of an actor.

Of all the leading men in all the world, Reitman did not choose wrong when he picked George Clooney to play this role. Watching him walk over a dozen people through the stages of grief that follow when they hear they’ve lost their job is almost mesmerizing because Clooney is just so damn charming when he does it. (It’s also interesting to note that according to the San Francisco Chronicle, most of the people depicted being fired were real-life people who had been unemployed and were asked to share their stories of what they wish they could have said to the person who’d fired them.)

He’s also very charming when he picks up a woman named Alex (played by Vera Farmiga) in a hotel bar who travels just as much as he does, and just like that classic scene in Jaws (which Kevin Smith borrowed in Chasing Amy) the two bond over which frequent flier programs are the best, tossing out cards and comparing bonuses the way Quint and Banky compared their scars.

It’s because of what Bingham does for a living that Clooney has to engage the viewer right away and make him and his motivational speaker theories of how a life lived without encumberances is the best life to lead palatable—even enviable. It doesn’t hurt that Clooney’s reputation as a lifelong bachelor helps reinforce the notion that Bingham will never settle down, will never be happy with a stable life, and that’s the way he prefers it.

And that’s another problem with this movie.

This was a tough movie to watch for several reasons. The loneliness that surrounds Bingham’s life is palpable. His home is a sterile one bedroom apartment which looks more like a hotel room than a home, inviting comparisons to the Narrator in Fight Club‘s IKEA-ified home, except more Spartan. You have to wonder exactly what happened to him in his youth to make him prefer a life on the road, and while you do get some glimpses and hints, there’s never enough to paint a whole picture.

Some of the other characters in the movie also had compelling, yet incomplete pictures painted of their lives. Bingham’s sisters Juile (played by Melanie Lynskey) and Kara (Amy Morton) were real people who had accepted that their brother would never really be there for them; and yet, they still harbored the hope that he would. And Farmiga’s Alex… oh, I liked her from the start. Not just because she was a great character foil to Bingham—being the yin to his yang—but she also revealed herself in a small little scene near the end of the movie as being unapologetically and distressingly flawed.

The only really “complete” character we saw was Anna Kendrick’s Natalie and perhaps it’s because she wasn’t in the original novel by Walter Kirn that she’s the most fleshed out. As Reitman and co-writer (and producer) Sheldon Turner write her, she’s easy to hate at first because she’s bringing a young person’s impersonal twist to the very personal world of being terminated and I’m not ashamed to say that I hurt my hands applauding when Bingham delivers a hell of a zinger to her when it’s time to humanize her in the middle of the film.

In fact, there are more than a few plot points that I felt were telegraphed, but then again, I am a smartass writer who likes to guess where movies are going. It makes sense that seeing how people get fired through Natalie’s eyes or discovering that he has a kindred spirit in Alex is the catalyst for some change in Bingham’s life. It makes complete and total sense that he drops a major opportunity to chase after the girl and the life that he has never really wanted.

However, for Ryan Bingham, there is no happy ending. Not yet. Like he has told hundreds of people in the course of his career, what happens to him is the start of something new and unfamiliar. But it’s because the movie never really delves deeply into Bingham’s personality that we never can really empathize with him and his feeling of loss or get a feeling that he is going to ever take the advice that he’s been doling out for years.

That’s the major flaw of this movie. By keeping the source of Bingham’s solitude such a mystery, you’re never really too invested in seeing him re-engage with the world, which is what sealed the deal for me. Yes, I was entertained, yes, I laughed a lot, and yes, there’s a hell of a lot of fine acting going on, but because of its unsympathetic lead, I can definitely say that this is one movie I’m not going to be interested in seeing over and over again.

Up in the Air is rated R for language and some sexual content. The movie goes into limited release in the U.S. on December 4 and opens wider on December 25… which really confuses the hell out of me because do people really want to think about how other people get fired on Christmas Day?

Related Posts: Trailer Watch: Second Up in the Air trailer, Trailer Watch: Up in the Air

Posted on November 24, 2009 at 06:49 by Trisha Lynn · Permalink
In: Reviews