Thursday, 1 April 2010

Up in the Air (2009)

There was a lot of backlash surrounding this movie's Best Picture nomination, so I thought I'd check it out. It's also didn't hurt that it was written/directed by Jason Reitman, and I liked Thankyou For Smoking and Juno. Yeah, I liked Juno motherfucker, you want to make something of it? After watching this one I can see why people think it's not Best Picture material (not based on a book, no race issues, not about the Holocaust, no blue aliens) but I'm not upset that it was nominated either. This isn't a Shakespeare-in-Love-style scenario. You might say my opinion on it is Up in the Air, but you'd be wrong. I thought was pretty good.

The movie is about Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) an asshole who his hired by cowardly companies to fly all around the country and fire people. He calls himself a 'transition specialist' and sells pre-packaged bullshit lines about unemployment being life-changing opportunity. He also has a side job doing motivational speaking, spreading his personal philosophy about having no attachment to possessions or people. He spends as little time as possible at his crappy, sterile apartment, he's obsessed with frequent flyer miles, fancy hotels, hire cars and shit, and that's the way he likes it. He even has a fuckbuddy with a similar outlook on life (Vera Farmiga) that he hooks up with on the road whenever their paths cross.

Things change when his company hires Natalie Keener (get it, cause she's keen, also played by Anna Kendrick), a fresh college graduate who has harnessed the dark powers of the internet to make their job even more impersonal and fucked up. Knowing that her video-conferencing firing system will make him obsolete, Clooney is forced to take her on the road and show her the ropes. Naturally she is an inexperienced flyer and has a big clunky ol' suitcase and packs her own pillows (lol, women) so he teaches her about the minutia of travel and the time-saving benefits of racism. At the same time she teaches him about the importance of love (not physically, Clooney has that part covered with Farmiga). They laugh. They love. They crash a tech conference dinner and watch a not-so-young Young MC performing Bust a Move. It's better than this makes it seem.

They could have probably got a whole film out of that, but about halfway through they bring in some pretty great stuff where Clooney attends his estranged sister's wedding. It's really awkward and it does a great job of showing the ramifications of his no-strings philosophy. There's a scene where he has to talk his brother-in-law out of his cold feet, and by some miracle it isn't completely forced and cheesy. The only part that seemed a bit Hollywood Bullshitty was when Clooney runs out in the middle of his keynote speech at a huge conference so he can fly across the country to visit his fuckbuddy-come-girlfriend, but even that scene is deflated a few moments later. I also liked that by the end of the film Clooney has started to question himself but he doesn't do a complete reversal of his world-view. What I liked most of all is that there are a lot of contradictions and hypocracies about Clooney's character that could have easily been italicised and/or double underlined Haggis-style but aren't.

They also keep things grounded and resist the temptation for wackiness, even though there are a lot of talented comedy actors in minor roles, like Danny McBride as his brother-in-law, Jason Bateman (with a beard!) as his boss and Zach Galifianakis (also with a beard but that's normal for him) as an employee on the chopping block. There's also a cameo from Sam Elliot in his usual wise cowboy role, except that here he's also a pilot. It would have been cool if they'd put a pilot hat on top of a cowboy hat, or created a fusion of the two styles, but at least he's still got his sweet moustache. The three main leads all do a great job and probably have a lot to do with why this film works. Also, with someone other than 2 time People's Sexiest Man Alive winner George Clooney in the lead role the audiences would have rebelled against the unbelievable asshollery of the protagonist and burned down the movie theater.

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