Saturday, December 26, 2009

Up in the Air

Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" is sort of what I expected it to be, as it split reviews among the heavily faithful and the mildly detracting (who weren't all that scorning after all, save Time Out New York and Salon), but maybe I was expecting it would sail above into what everyone loves to call (especially Owen Gleiberman) that "Cary Grant" thing. George Clooney, who's better playing a fox or a "fixer," acts as Ryan Bingham, who's hired to give people the exit as "the position is no longer available" where they work. As my moviegoing partner noted, Bingham talks up a storm of vacuity as much as Sy Ableman, and he's trained himself not to care that much. He just floats between luxuries given from his "rewards cards" and hates to be at home, rather wanting to be up in the air and traveling (regarding the latter at least I think).

To use a phrase that he slaps down on those he lets go, he receives two "wake-up calls": first from Alex (Vera Farmiga), a similarly on-the-go woman who he falls slowly into love with and who is readily in reviews called "his match," and secondly from Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a new employee at his company who wants to make the company more efficient by relegating the decommissions to video chats. First this puts a dagger in Ryan's step: he was perfectly fine flying around, and he is not impressed with her plans to keep people "at home." But then, as he is told to give her firing skills, I believe he starts to lighten up a little and have more thoughts about his "isolated existence." Relationships progress, and Ryan starts to rethink other things, too, such as his sister's wedding that he would normally just pass by. Clooney's performance in these scenes becomes better and less dry.

My fellow moviegoer said that Clooney was acting flat for a reason, but then again it's pretty bland due to the fact that Clooney is narrating monotone about his travels in a very tongue-in-cheek way. Sure, he's done this before, but thought should be put into the fact that the subject matter in other instances was a little more forgiving. This movie is not awful, but sort of empty and macabre, but I guess that's the point People at my screening were laughing consistently, and not in the DeLillo way. I think I've even read that Walter Kirn's book is a "satire," and if so, perhaps it's better (not to mention that, according to a Film Comment interview, the book is also very different, and Reitman added a lot in the movie). From what I've read and according to IMDB, Reitman intended it to be that way, but decided to change it a little bit. I might have liked it better beforehand, since lame humor is not quite as good as "biting satire." And as the obvious white elephant of "the recession" (which was loved by many critics but derided by Nick's Flick Picks as it was forcedly "'timely' and 'relevant'"), I personally agree with NFP about it being "sketchy," which it definitely was. Non-actors were put into this movie to give it that feeling, and it, I agree with my friend, didn't work, due to the way the clips were spliced in there.

When you take a look at Reitman, his films are not terribly well written (I mean, I still have a bit of affinity for some lines in "Juno," which I actually partially re-watched and don't think is quite as good as before), with pretty obvious and unfunny jokes ("secondhand", as Gabe Toro said). As I said before, people laughed, because this was an "adult comedy" just like "An Education" was (which also brick walls us with a late-game surprise, just like this one). You can be safe here. I'm not the hugest fan of these films, but there are many that are. Another thing I feel the need to point out is the content similarities between this film and Oren Moverman's slightly better "The Messenger." Bingham trains Natalie like Woody Harrelson trains Ben Foster to "stick to the script" while giving out "casualty notifications." It was an altogether more effective movie, even though "losing your job is often equated to dying" (Arthur Miller and my Humanities teacher, among others looking back Joseph McCarthy, say so). In this movie, the whole schtick feels tired (which is cynical, yes, but how else can you feel about the sequencing of, as others have said, "the "calm" ones with the hysterical ones"?).

For the performances, I thought Farmiga and Kendrick (though not perfect and, though another friend prefers Farmiga to Kendrick and where I prefer Kendrick to Farmiga, who with sometimes one is better than the other) were both better than Clooney, who did well despite acting with a bland presence. One could wonder whether if Jason Bateman (who played Ryan's boss) and Clooney had done a "role reversal" the movie would have been better or at least more interesting (Clooney being the obvious filler of such a role, which, as my friends and NFP note, is against type but at the same time fitting). That's what we need here: more interest and less calculation of mileage. C+

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