UP IN THE AIR ****


Everyone comes to their own personal existential crossroad eventually.

RYAN BINGHAM (GEORGE CLOONEY) is all ready there. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Ryan is a corporate downsizing specialist. Otherwise known as a hatchet man. He spends nearly 300 days a year crisscrossing the country on various planes.

His mission: to inform unfortunate individuals that they are no longer needed at their particular places of employment.

Ryan is hardly the introspective type. It has nothing to do with being cruel or insensitive. But he knows that someone has to do this for a living. It might as well be him. He is performing a necessary (though entirely unheralded) service.

He lives a simple, elegant, minimalistic lifestyle. No commitments. No responsibilities. No obligations. He’s not even close to his own family.

Well into his forties, Ryan is gorgeous, persuasive, charming and always up for a good time. He has never had the slightest desire to modify his goals. He’s happy doing exactly what he does best.

What genuinely delights him is the mobility and freedom his professional standing affords him. He’s never at home and he’s constantly on his way to somewhere else.

All relationships are automatically casual. Everything is breezy and light. There is no thought given to tomorrow. It’s just business as usual. The sun will come up. Then there will be more of the same.

The film begins with a good natured edgy hip hop version of THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND. Big changes are just around the corner for our cool unruffled protagonist.

Ryan has always gotten along well with his boss CRAIG GREGORY (JASON BATEMAN).

Craig is a bottom line kind of guy. He’s not one to mince words or to waste them. When someone presents him with an idea that would increase productivity, he’s on it immediately.

A whiz kid has caught his attention.

Hot shot college grad NATALIE KEENER (ANNA KENDRICK) has devised a scheme that Craig heartily approves of. Why should Ryan fly all over the continent firing people when he could dismiss employees permanently over teleconferencing software? He could do that from head office and the company could save a lot of money.

Needless to say, that is the very last thing Ryan wants. He protests vociferously. Craig agrees to let him take Natalie on the road and show her the ropes. Ryan isn’t crazy about that either. But there is not a lot of room for alternative improvising. So he reluctantly agrees.

In the midst of all this confusion, Ryan meets ALEX GORAN (VERA FARMIGA) at an airport lounge. She’s a bold female version of him.

Alex is also a driven executive with major air miles chalked up. She’s barely in one place for more than a few days at a time. Alex is sharp, experienced, sexually experimental. She’s always a few steps ahead of Ryan.

They sleep together immediately. When he hasn’t called her within the span of a couple of weeks, she contacts him. He likes the fact that she made the first move. But she reassures him anyway.

“I’m the woman you don’t have to worry about.”
“That sounds like a trap.”

It’s not. But this relationship will be the ultimate learning experience. It will be more – and less – than he ever imagined.

The turning point for this easygoing rogue has two interlocking chapters. His arrangement with Alex is deepening and becoming something else.

He had no reason to expect that. He likes spending time with her. The more he sees of her, the more he wants to be with her.

Ryan’s sister JULIE (MELANIE LYNSKEY) is getting married. Straight out of left field, Ryan asks Alex if she would like to accompany him to the wedding. She accepts.

While he’s there, Julie’s boyfriend gets the jitters. The groom to be decides that getting hitched would be a terrible mistake. He will not budge.

Julie is heartbroken. Family members tell Ryan that he has to convince him to walk down the aisle with her.

Ryan is carefree and perpetually uncommitted. He’s not the first person you’d think of for this particular task. For his sibling’s sake, Ryan takes a deep breath and pulls out all the stops.

His strategy works. But it seems to leave a particular effect on Ryan. Perhaps he’s been overestimating his satisfaction for many years.

Maybe there is something that he’s been missing.

UP IN THE AIR is based on the novel by WALTER KIRN.

This is only JASON REITMAN’S third full length feature. He is in his early 30s. How did he get to be such a sensitive, remarkably assured filmmaker at such an early age? He conveys so much authentic emotion with marvelous depth and poignancy.

MIKE NICHOLS did the same thing. HAL ASHBY also possessed similar ironic insights. But he did it on a smaller scale.

There are echoes of THE GRADUATE here. Certainly with the global outlook and people losing their jobs, this film arrived at the perfect time. It finds all the right notes in a spontaneously lyrical fashion.

Both the uncertain ending and the usage of evocative music are reminiscent of the 1967 classic. But JASON REITMAN hits the zeitgeist and rips it all to hell.

His wonderful script (cowritten with SHELDON TURNER) has some wickedly hilarious lines but easily illuminates the characters’ motivations and behaviour.

JASON BATEMAN and MELANIE LYNSKEY are very effective in small roles.

VERA FARMIGA is excellent. ALEX is a strong person who knows what she wants and goes after it. She also has powerfully enticing chemistry with GEORGE.

ANNA KENDRICK is less successful. NATALIE is so tightly wound that if you pulled on her long lustrous ponytail she’d yelp in fright. But she plays this young woman in exactly the same manner as her unpleasant character in ROCKET SCIENCE.

The movie is too well constructed for her to make a real dent in its glorious effectiveness. But it’s a blessed relief every time she’s off screen.

But the heart and soul of this fantastic film is most definitely GEORGE CLOONEY. He does something especially brilliant.

Like WARREN BEATTY in SHAMPOO, he portrays someone whose personality is identical to his image. As audience members and cinema aficionados, we think that RYAN BINGHAM is GEORGE CLOONEY.

What is the real man actually like? Only the people that are close to him are allowed that kind of information. That’s as it should be. He’s a film star. He’s certainly entitled to his privacy.

But we do imagine him as someone like RYAN. Then he takes that part, goes light years beyond it and makes it utterly transcendent. He shows aching vulnerabilities that he never has before. He was fabulous in MICHAEL CLAYTON.

But in this movie, he gives the most exquisitely full bodied, ballsy and bracingly emotional performance he ever has.

It’s something to see.

Nobody has limitless amounts of time. Seize the day before the sun sets.

It might be later than you think…

6 Responses to “UP IN THE AIR ****”

  1. I suppose life would be more interesting if I didn’t mostly keep my trap shut when I disagree with you, but you know I don’t like to fight and I prefer chiming in when I agree. Boring, but that’s me.

    Anyway, here I am.

    I also quite liked Up in the Air. It was slick and entertaining and it left you with a little something to think about. Pretty much a perfect Hollywood type flick in my opinion. I generally prefer stuff with a little more edge to it, but this one was very likable.

    Of course I’m biased towards Clooney, but that’s my cross to bear.

    One area we disagree is on Anna Kendrick. Her character isn’t as much fun as either Clooney or Farmiga, but I thought she did a great job keeping her from becoming the Ice Queen cliche. She brought a real humanity to the role and as I’ve said elsewhere I think she’s ultimately the heart and soul of the movie. Clooney is the star, but it’s questionable how much his character changes. Her character learns his lessons and she does so as a 20 something.

    Anyway. A pretty small disagreement.

  2. Honey, you have always been so considerate to me. You’ve been a total gentleman for as long as we’ve been friends.

    Don’t think that I don’t appreciate that. I do.

    I see lots of people visiting their friends’ sites and causing tons of petty lamebrained arguments about F all. Is there a point to that? Not in my opinion.

    If I don’t agree with someone I’m fond of, I generally avoid that thread. What are you going to gain by yapping about it?

    I’m not saying that a good discussion covering a variety of different viewpoints can’t be illuminating. It’s just that most of the time it doesn’t accomplish anything. It just creates hurt feelings and lots of resentment.

    But then there are plenty of immature jerkoffs on the net. I just don’t have time for any of that nonsense.

    This is interesting. You and I both gave UP IN THE AIR four stars. But, in spite of the fact that we really liked it a lot, we had different ways of experiencing it and digesting the details.

    Whether it wins the BEST PICTURE OSCAR or not, I think that this is a film that will grow in stature over time. It could very well be a modern classic. It certainly solidifies JASON REITMAN’S reputation.

    Well, I’m rather partial to GEORGE myself. When I watch him on those ROSEANNE reruns, he really is awfully cute. He has incredible charm and a great way with a line.

    But who knew that he had all of this awesome acting talent burning inside him? He has surprised me consistently since SYRIANA. Plus he’s also an A list director now.

    You never can tell about these things.

    As for Ms. Kendrick…

    I’ll choose my words carefully. One of the things I’ve learned the last few months is that you never know who might be reading you. Or for how long.

    I had all ready seen ANNA in a very crappy useless film called ROCKET SCIENCE where she played the same type of character EXACTLY THE SAME WAY. So some of these awards that she’s winning are baffling to me.

    But I have to be honest. I did read an interview with her recently where she said that JASON had actually seen her in that flick and wrote Natalie with her in mind. So the characters were similar and I guess that’s the effect that he likely wanted.

  3. I’d never seen Ms. Kendrick in anything and couldn’t have picked her out of a police lineup if I had to. I’m judging her based on this one performance compared to what I expected of the character. I really thought she was just going to be a shrew and a victim of George’s unfettered awesomeness, but she actually turned out to be a real human being and a big part of the soul of the picture. Maybe it was the writing? Maybe it was the performance? I don’t know. I give her bonus points nevertheless.

    I do think this film is being underrated by the folks who don’t like it. Not that they SHOULD like it, but I see it being dismissed as being too empty and too Hollywood. I admit it’s very slick and goes down a little too easy, but I think there’s a depth there that isn’t getting its proper due.

  4. Thanks for being here, Craig.

    We split on Ms. Kendrick. Not a problem. A lot of people seem to be on her side. That’s their prerogative.

    I also think that UITA has a lot of depth. In that respect I totally agree with you. Particularly in the way that Ryan and Alex’s interaction was dealt with.

    I don’t understand this idea that it’s slick. Why?

    Is it because it’s a well made film by a Hollywood boy with connections that was released by a major studio? That doesn’t mean that it lacks depth.

    I think people are being unfair.

  5. ***SPOILERS****

    The one thing that threw me was Alex’s quick change.

    Yeah, she panicked because he showed up at her door, but I’m surprised she lied to him to begin with. I think she could’ve had everything she wanted from him had she been up front about her situation.

    There are plenty of good reasons why she wouldn’t be honest, but I wish they’d explored that a little more. It’s the film’s one flaw for me.

  6. Craig, I honestly don’t know what the hell I’d do without you. You are always there when I need you.

    In my world, that really counts for something.

    ***************SPOILERS*******************

    I guess I look at this situation in UITA a little differently. I don’t think Alex wanted any more from Ryan.

    They got together sexually within hours of meeting. That was a kind of behaviour that they had become accustomed to over time. Very simple and natural for both of them.

    I think she never felt the need to explain her situation because she just assumed that that was all he wanted too. Just a casual, noncommitted thing where they would connect every now and then as they crisscrossed the continent. There was no need to discuss what was actually going on in her life. That was irrelevant to her in terms of what they were doing.

    She wasn’t far off the mark. That was all he was looking for at the beginning. But his feelings for her grew over time. That was something that neither of them counted on.

    What she was doing was immoral. Absolutely.

    But she obviously needed that kind of sexual excitement and mad delirium so that she could stay in the situation that she had created for herself. In that last phone call she made it clear to him that she had made her choice years ago. All she had to offer him was what he was all ready getting from her.

    Ryan is presented as someone who is not interested in anything close or long lasting (unless it’s with no strings). But it’s clear that he’s not going around leading women on. What you see is what you get.

    But I can never get that scene out of my mind. You know when Ryan is standing in Alex’s doorway and he realizes what the hell has been going on – and the light just drains from his face?

    The poor man. That’s pretty brutal.

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