Up in the Air

| January 18, 2010 | Comments (1)

Up In The Air

DIR: Jason Reitman • WRI: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner • PRO: Jeffrey Clifford, Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman, Jason Reitman • DOP: Eric Steelberg • ED: Dana E. Glauberman • DES: Steve Saklad • CAST: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey

Another Jason Reitman movie, another slick awards contender. Up in the Air, just his third directorial feature, has been building some serious buzz in Hollywood celebratory circles since it premiered at Telluride last year. Only this time, instead of tobacco lobbyists or hip pregnant teenagers, Reitman’s latest focuses on the dysphoria of the current economic climate, the dislocation of modern man. Sounds like a winning formula, right? It doesn’t hurt that George Clooney stars in a role tailor-made for his specific talents: he pours himself into it with the precision of a fully-automated Nespresso machine – potent and pleasing – but a little predictable, much like the film itself.

Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizing expert who flies around the country calmly and efficiently firing employees from companies that no longer require their services. He also moonlights giving seminars outlining the benefits of living a baggage-free existence. ‘Make no mistake, your relationships are the heaviest components on your life’, he tells his audience – for Bingham keeping your distance and severing ties with family, friends and lovers is the key to living well. He’s suave. In control. This guy is just asking for something to come along and turn his world upside down, and alas it does; not one, but two dynamic women threatened to break open his ‘cocoon of isolation and banishment’. The poor fella might have to learn to keep his feet on the ground.

Bingham first meets Alex Goran, a fellow (female) high-powered frequent flier, played by the effortless Vera Farmiga, with whom he instantly hits it off after catching her eye at a plush stopover bar. Their form of flirtation involves comparing loyalty club cards and exchanging elitist double-entendres, before hitting the hotel room. Slightly intimidating, she’s different from most women he’s encountered in the past – apparently unconcerned with settling down, and motivated by status. ‘Just think of me as you with a vagina’, she assures him over the phone when he’s unsure of how to sensitively proceed. Meanwhile, a motor-mouth young executive named Natalie Green (rising actress Anna Kendrick) arrives in his boardroom to shake things up at the corporation. Fresh from Cornell, she introduces a scheme to eradicate the need for travel in the company and instead fire people via teleconferencing. Concerned that this might hinder the humanity of the process (but more concerned with consolidating his position), Ryan offers to take her along on the job, to learn a thing or two before she re-structures the whole enterprise and he has say goodbye to flying high.

Once these conceits are in place, the film finds a nice rhythm and sharp spectacle, as you’d expect from a production of this calibre. There are plenty of laughs, mainly thanks to Kendrick’s uptight dramatics sparking off Clooney’s calm reserve. Bingham reveals to her his goal to reach 10 million air mile bonus, to which she replies, ‘That’s it? You’re saving just to save?’. There’s a wonderful scene in which Clooney, Fermiga and Kendrick discuss relationships and commitment – the dynamic between a yuppie and the apparently content corporate high-fliers she pertains to one day be is very engaging.

Despite being written a year before the global economic downturn, the film does tap into the sense of despair currently felt by the American people. As Clooney fires a succession of decent folks who crumble to pieces at the news – these scenes are all the more effective with the knowledge that those made redundant are not played by professional actors, but by the actual recently unemployed. It gives the film a certain credibility…then again, it also highlights the reality that these multi-millionaire actors are coercing a reaction from ‘ordinary’ people for the benefit of their own elite product…within the realm of this story however, it works.

Unfortunately the film loses steam as it approaches the third act – the characters try to reassess their values and become more intimate, but the hollowness of the story shows through. Kendrick’s trilling becomes more irritating than endearing and Clooney’s conviction more monotone – yet Farmiga remains consistently compelling and is one of the film’s more worthwhile appeals. Sensing a deeper connection with Alex, Ryan takes what he sees as a huge step and invites her to his somewhat homely sister’s wedding. However, set against these ordinary characters, our leads seem more like caricatures, and the choice of switching to handheld digital for the entire wedding montage is very stylistically jarring.

In the end the film satisfies, but not as completely as it could – it’s a shame because for the most part Reitman deftly strikes the balance between sleek satire and genuine pathos. Certain reversals however are not adequately built up or elaborated to achieve the emotional response Reitman wants and the audience deserves. Ultimately, this is entertainment with plenty to recommend it but not much to truly remember. If you ever watch it in-flight you may start to forget it once you reach your destination.

Eoghan McQuinn
(See biog here)

Rated 15A (See IFCO website for details)
Up in the Air is released on 15th January 2010

Up in the Air – Official Website

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  1. Hi, interesting blog. Will subscribe and follow your posts. Thanks

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