3/5/10

Review: Up in the Air (2009)


Jason Reitman's Up in the Air is pretty overrated. There's a lot of unemployment, and it's about a guy who fires people for a living and it has a zippy script and A-list actors doing a good job, so it's no surprise it's zeitgeist-y and Oscar catnip, but like Reitman's previous film, Juno, it's more likable and glib than profound. The book is based upon a novel by Walter Kirn, which I have not read, though I have read some of his short stories and articles, which I found uniformly worthwhile.

George Clooney does a pretty good job as Ryan Bingham, a rootless corporate wanderer who flies around firing people for company bosses who don't know how or can't be bothered. Bingham makes a sort of religion out of doing his job well, avoiding entanglements and staying in constant motion. He's even bottled his philosophy into a motivational speech which he delivers in whatever's left of his free time.

Bingham stays in constant motion, on autopilot in fact, until he's confronted with a young business school graduate, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick, very good), with a new scheme for his company's business which would strand him at home, where he might have to get a dog or grow petunias. Clearly, this must be stopped.

Bingham's plan is to put Keener on the road with him, show her the ropes of what can be a particularly nasty and depressing business, and see if she can stand up under it. He's nice enough to her, but doesn't shield her from the realities of what they do.

In the meantime, Bingham has started up an affair with Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga, wonderful), who seems to be sort of a female version of himself. She's open, funny, pragmatic and seems as interested in Bingham as he is in her. Ryan and Alex's paths cross with Natalie's at a memborable conference they crash for the music, dancing and free booze.

We do learn that Bingham has some family connections, however reluctant he may be to spend much time or thought on them, when he invites Alex home with him for his sister's wedding. We meet both of his sisters, Kara (Amy Morton, very good), who's getting a divorce after many years of marriage to a man Bingham barely knows, and Julie (Melanie Lynskey, "Two and a Half Men," Away We Go, also very good), who's marrying Jim Miller (Danny McBride, pretty funny), a lovable goofball with cold feet.

Jason Bateman plays Clooney's boss, and is quite good. Zach Galifianakis, J.K. Simmons and Sam Elliott have effective cameos, along with a string of actual fired workers who play workers Bingham fires.

There's a lot that's amusing or interesting in the film, but there are connections that just aren't made or made well. I won't spoil the ending, but I must say it's weak, despite confronting in a useful way some of the more tired conventions of similar films. The last line of the film, in my opinion, is much too epigrammatic, too easy, and at the same time overambitious. It doesn't work, and it unbalances the film.

I've seen Up in the Air twice by now. It's not bad, and again, the actors are talented and working well with okay material. But it's sort of like Jerry Maguire without any earnestness, and what was good about Jerry Maguire was mostly earnestness. The film's best acting Oscar nominations are well-deserved, script, pic, director not so much, I think.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

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