Posted by: Alan | January 11, 2010

Review: Up in the Air (2009)

Up in the Air

Director: Jason Reitman

Writer: Sheldon Turner, Jason Reitman (screenplay), Walter Kirn (book)

Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farminga, Anna Kendrick

Rating: 

Never before has a film snuck up on me like Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air. I had heard about it, but didn’t know much about it, aside from the usual ‘who’s in it’ and ‘who made it.’ It wasn’t until the year end lists started rolling out and a surprising amount naming this movie the BEST FILM OF THE YEAR that I realized I should get my butt down to the theatre for the first time since August and see what it was all about. I do love Jason Reitman, and I’m still convinced the only reason I didn’t like Juno had nothing to do with direction and everything to do with writing. But I digress. Like Thank You For Smoking, Reitman helped adapt this story from a book (this time by Walter Kirn) and if I had my way, he’d continue to adapt and direct books that mean something to him for the rest of his career. Along with incredible performances by George Clooney and Anna Kendrick, this film pleasantly surprised me in being, indeed, one of the best of the year.

The basic premise is this: Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, whose career is essentially someone who travels around the country and fires people. Due to the nature of his job and being on a plane over 300 days of the year, he doesn’t own a home, he’s not married, and he is completely content with this situation. He states that the plane is more of a ‘home’ for him than anywhere else ever has been, and he is collecting frequent flyer miles from his choice airline to get 10 million miles, something only six other people have done. His job is threatened however, when Natalie Keener (Kendrick) is hired by his boss to move the business into the digital age. In other words, they’re going to start firing people over the internet instead of in person. Bingham is rightly upset at this news and his boss (played nicely by Jason Bateman) decides to send Natalie along with him to ‘learn the ropes’ as it were.

The movie is structured almost like a buddy comedy: Bingham is the never-gonna-settle-down-and-doesn’t-believe-in-love older man and Natalie is the naive youngster who has a laundry list of items that need to be present in her ‘ideal mate.’ They have many differing opinions but as they get to know one another a mutual sense of respect is developed and luckily no romance sprung up between the two of them like most ‘unlikely pair’ plots usually have. In fact, the film itself is very anti-plot and focuses much more on character development and relationships. The end of the film is one of the most satisfying endings I’ve ever seen, thanks in part to Clooney’s amazing performance and knowing his story is not done when the credits roll.

Interspersed throughout the main story are many smaller stories: the various firing sessions we get to witness, Clooney’s budding romance with what seems to be the female version of himself (Farminga), and the upcoming wedding of his sister. They are all woven into the film seamlessly and to great effect, I’d like to cite one scene in particular, and that’s the firing scene between Clooney and J.K. Simmons. Simmons is being let go and is rightly upset, and here we get to see just how good at his job Bingham is. When Simmons talks about how his kids aren’t going to respect him without a job, Bingham fires back that they likely never respected him anyway. He goes on to say that Simmons took some culinary arts classes before suddenly ‘selling out’ and working a high-paying office job. He tells him that this is an opportunity to go back and maybe pursue the dream he had to be a chef, and it visibly shakes Simmons’ character to the core. It’s a powerful scene that meant a lot to me, and there were many other firing scenes that worked incredibly well.

Perhaps the main theme of the film is attributed to Bingham’s personal philosophy and the other character’s reactions to it. In fact it’s incredibly refreshing to have a protagonist who has a philosophy such as this and not have them seem like depressed losers – in fact, he seems a lot more content with his life than the other people he encounters. I find it very fascinating that most of the western world still pursues and aspires to this idea of the ‘nuclear family’ and anyone who challenges this notion is deemed strange. Why is marriage considered the ‘goal’ to life? In fact even Bingham seems to ‘come around’ to this way of thinking near the end of the film – or at least starts to entertain the notion of it – but thankfully it doesn’t end the way you might think it will.

I feel this film was a really amazing portrayal of one man’s very unique life which could easily be related to by the majority of people. If anything it was a very moving piece of cinema that met and exceeded all of my expectations. I cannot recommend this movie enough.

-Alan

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Responses

  1. Perhaps the main theme of the film is attributed to Bingham’s personal philosophy and the other character’s reactions to it. In fact it’s incredibly refreshing to have a protagonist who has a philosophy such as this and not have them seem like depressed losers – in fact, he seems a lot more content with his life than the other people he encounters. I find it very fascinating that most of the western world still pursues and aspires to this idea of the ‘nuclear family’ and anyone who challenges this notion is deemed strange. Why is marriage considered the ‘goal’ to life? In fact even Bingham seems to ‘come around’ to this way of thinking near the end of the film – or at least starts to entertain the notion of it – but thankfully it doesn’t end the way you might think it will….

    I feel this film was a really amazing portrayal of one man’s very unique life which could easily be related to by the majority of people. If anything it was a very moving piece of cinema that met and exceeded all of my expectations.

    I really like what you said there, and how you said it. A friend and I have both liked the film but he had a different reading of the ending. He found it more cynical, I found it more cautiously optimistic. The final sixty or so seconds where Bingham looks up at the arrivals/departures board and then the camera cuts to a close-up of his hand letting go of his baggage–metaphor and pun! I interpreted that as his doing what Natalie would do if she had all of his miles.

    You can read my thoughts of the film here.

  2. I thought the movie was completely overated and amazingly mediocre. I should mention that I think George Clooney is a boring actor and hasn’t made a decent movie since “O Brother Where Art Thou”.

  3. […] The story of a man whose job is to fire people is interesting enough on its own. Of course, the perfect casting of George Clooney in this role makes it all the better, as he has the perfect amount of charm and persuasion to really sell the idea that he can fire someone and have them thank him for it. Of course it doesn’t always end that way and there are some great moments of the firings with JK Simmons and Zach Galifiniakis. But the overall story, about his job possibly becoming obsolete with the introduction of firings being done with automated systems and webcams, is something most of us can understand and possibly relate to in this growingly tech-heavy world. Read the full review here. […]


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