Up in the Air

>> Thursday, December 31, 2009

This was the selection for the annual Christmas Day movie. I wanted to see this because I wanted to see how it handles laying people off since I was laid off last year. The movie has a company entirely dedicated to firing/laying off people from their jobs. I've never heard of a company like that, so I can only assume its existence lies in the world of fiction. I'm sure there are managers who would much rather pay someone to do that task for them though.

This is the third Jason Reitman film I've seen, and every one had a distinctive opening credit sequence. The font choices and aerial shots of farm land reminded me of old pictures of the 60s and early 70s. I remember hearing about the arduous process in creating one for Juno. I actually forgot about the one for Thank You for Smoking until my sister reminded me of it. Now I'm beginning to wonder what his next film will be and what he'll come up with for that.

Which seems to be the most lingering thought I have about this flick. I saw this a week ago. I'm not sure what to think of it. It didn't have a super duper happy ending, which made sense; although, I was surprised how Clooney and Farmiga's characters' relationship turned out. Mostly I just feel "Eh" about it now. A sentiment I find disappointing given how many critics' awards this has won recently.

Basically, I expected a little more from this movie. What exactly? I don't know. But I know that a week later I'm already beginning to think: overrated. Yeah, it has some great sequences, some great lines, and interesting characters. But a week later after watching all of this, all I can think of is: eh.

Julian Sancton came up with this in Vanity Fair:

But the film is also gliding to a great extent on a tailwind of hype. It’s easy to see why Hollywood is abuzz; Up in the Air contains all the elements required to titillate the Academy: a movie star in the old vein, a palatable love story, a popular director with friends all over town (Reitman), and, above all, a sobering relevance. The problem is that those ingredients are cobbled together in a tasty but inconsistent casserole. There are two movies in Up in the Air: one about a guy who’s flying around the country firing people, and one about a commitment-phobe who’s flying away from responsibility and a shot at true love, as embodied by Farmiga.

There is no attempt to braid these two threads together, and that’s where the movie feels unsatisfying. Only the love story comes in for a landing, and not necessarily a soft one; the economy story, however, has no third act—which is understandable, since we’re still flying through that storm.
Hm. I suppose that could be it. But I don't necessarily agree with that entirely. I see the ending more as a man who used to know what he wanted--pure superficiality--and learned that he wanted something deeper and more substantial and saw it slip through his fingers. Both threads are essential to make that point. He wouldn't have demonstrated that conclusion at the end if it hadn't been for both threads. Except he didn't get what he wanted, which is why he's "up in the air" about his future as he heads out on the road again.

Which is probably why I find it so unsatisfying a week later. All that and then... nothing. Not an epic fail. Not an epic win. Just more of "I still haven't found what I'm looking for." Great. Life's a journey 'n all that... It makes me feel like there should be a sequel for when Clooney's character, Ryan, actually finds what he's looking for.

Here's the author, Walter Kirn, on his novel:
The story, which I started writing at the peak of the dot-com mania, was conceived, in part, as a morality tale about the spiritual distortions forced upon people by techno-capitalism. It was also a satirical treatment of the drive to pile up useless wealth. But mostly it was a character study of someone (or a class of someones) who I felt was invisible in literature despite being all around me in real life: the pretzel-eating, mini-bar-raiding nomad, his existence pared down to a single carry-on, but his soul the same size as everyone else’s.
Well, that's something I can file in "shit I already knew." For a movie that has received so much critical acclaim, I expected more than that. Much more. I'm pretty sure I've seen this story before and better done. (Wonder Boys perhaps?) The only thing differentiating it is business travel and layoffs.

Since I think this film is overrated, that's not to say I don't think it deserves to be nominated as Best Picture. I think it does deserve that. As for whether it deserves to win or not, off hand I'd say no except I'll wait to see what 10 films the Academy comes up with. It is possible to do worse.

All that talk about Clooney possibly winning Best Actor is also overblown. I don't see much difference between Ryan Bingham and Michael Clayton except for the love story. (Some critic noted that we get to see Clooney's "vulnerable side." And for that he deserves an award? Wow. Clooney really is a charmer.) I would like to see him get nominated but definitely not win. I'd actually like Clooney to direct more. I think he still has untapped potential in that domain just waiting to be used.

And then there are those who love to tout Anna Kendrick. Um, why? It's clear to me that she can act, but all I saw was the same firecracker delivery that I saw in the two Twilight films. She just had a better script and role this time around. I can only think of her as a brunette Buffy.

In retrospect, it's Vera Farmiga's performance that I like the most. It's not a show stopper or scene stealing. It's subtle and doesn't look like acting, which I don't think can always be said of Kendrick's hyper junior flyer. Although, I do have to say that when I saw her character's ass in the first 15 minutes, I knew it wasn't hers. It was pretty obvious when we didn't see Farmiga's face until a close-up on the bed that it was a body double walking across the room.


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