January 25, 2010

Up in the Air

Up in the Air's Ryan Bingham earns his living traveling cross-country downsizing people whose employers are too chicken to do it themselves. And he is perfectly happy living out of his suitcase and having no familial responsibilities. He's estranged even from his sisters, bride-to-be Julie (Melanie Lynskey), and Kara (August: Osage County's Amy Morton). Bingham also goes on speaking engagements to promote his no-strings-attached philosophy. In one of his business trips, he begins a casual romance with fellow frequent flyer Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga). His carefree lifestyle is threatened when young, haughty Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) joins the company. She wants to cut costs by grounding all the corporate assassins and using video conferencing instead. Fighting to keep his way of life (and to meet his goal of ten million frequent flyer miles), their boss Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) instead sends them both on a final lay-off blitz. As expected, the trips humanize them: Ryan gets to reflect on his no-commitments attitude, while Natalie's self-assurance diminishes as she fires people face-to-face.

The script is not as verbose as Juno, but it has its witty moments. The score is pleasant enough, but overused and thus, overwhelming at times. (By the way, the end credits song 'Up in the Air' was written by a job-loss victim.) To this cynic, the movie ends on a happy note, only because it is most un-Hollywood and unexpected. I almost rolled my eyes and threatened to groan when it teetered on the edge of a typical romantic comedy ending. Thank goodness it stepped back.

I went to see Up in the Air to see what the awards buzz was all about, and of course, George Clooney. The film is entertaining, but I was a tad depressed by the time it ended. Pretty sure its themes of isolation, human connection, and especially the economic downturn had something to do with it. During this grim recession, seeing footage of actual people who lost their jobs was probably all the drama I could take. (Zach Galifianakis from The Hangover and J.K. Simmons are interspersed with non-actors talking about their job loss, or what they would have liked to say to their former employers.) Like Nick Naylor from Jason Reitman's Thank you for Smoking, our central character was unsympathetic to begin with. But because it's played by Mr. Clooney, I still ended up liking Ryan Bingham. Except of course it seems like he's playing himself: the eternal bachelor. His performance in Michael Clayton remains my favorite.

(photo from Impawards)


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