Cinemalphabet: U is for Up in the Air (2009)
Nothing about this movie seemed remotely appealing; not even the chance to see Clooney in what appeared to be the kind of slouchy cool role he’s been perfecting since Ocean’s. I’m generally wary of white people assaulting the screen with what they believe is a return to a sense of cleverness devoid in other films not created by them. I have never seen Juno and more importantly, I don’t plan to. Nothing about that particular narrative set up appeals to me either. Let me get this straight: when a cute white teen gets knocked up it’s poignant, but when a black teen gets knocked up it’s Precious? I’ll take a hot bag of, “no thanks” on that. So that’s where I’m coming from on the subject of Reitman and his largely grating cinematic oeuvre.
- “Up in the Air has good doses of humor and drama, with a decent story aided by an engaging cast. My biggest issue with it is I found it unfulfilling. This movie thinks it’s deeper and more meaningful than it actually is, so by the end it just felt a bit empty. It does make some interesting observations about the nature of loneliness and relationships, as well as the seriousness of losing a job, but never goes far enough to actually make a definitive statement on any of these things, at least not to me. Everything hinged on a sort of by-now-cliche indie ambiguity.”
Alex from Film Forager nails it so completely in her own review of the film (which predates mine), so it’s not as though anything I’m going to state will be earth shattering information. Up in the Air is actually entertaining, lightweight and reasonably satisfying the way amenities of discount flying shitboxes are. It’s not so much that the amenities actually compare to anything you’d get outside the shitbox, but since you’re there and you can’t exactly escape until it’s over might as well enjoy what you can from it.
The first problem with the film is its lead star. Now I’d be the first to stand in line to pay cashmoney to see Clooney read and act out the instruction for assembling Ikea furniture and he wasn’t terrible as Ryan Bingham. However, Clooney was not the actor I pictured in the role when I originally read the novel. I pictured William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin or if Hollywood wanted to be smart about things: Don Cheadle. The fact Clooney was cast told me the film didn’t trust us to frame Bingham neutrally and really had to make sure he was hot and saddled with the baggage of his infinitely likable actor in order to distract audiences from Bingham’s less glowing characteristics, which are ample. Without the Clooney, Bingham would just be another white guy with white guy angst and well, we can’t have that.
The fact that it was Clooney made me take all of this unbearable whiteness of being rather casually. I wasn’t too challenged or concerned about the central conflict – wait, didn’t it have something to do with loneliness and navigating societal expectations of connection – because Clooney in the driver’s seat tells me everything will work out just fine enough for me not to invest myself emotionally. Of course, things don’t go exactly as Bingham expects and you know, that’s a bummer, but still he’s got a trim body, a full head of hair and looks like George Clooney. It’s real hard to ring pathos out of that gorgeously aged face. In fact, by the end of the film I wonder how Bingham might have been if he’d gone into the experience with the same lowered expectations I had! I bet he would have been happier.
Vera Farmiga was well utilized and her character Alex was fun, smart and complex in a faux female empowerment sort of way. I smelled the, “oh snap” she had in store for Bingham after their first meeting. It was kind of obvious and not because I read the book. In fact I don’t recall the book having this particular subplot. As for Natalie, I tried to like her, but found her annoying as a mosquito and wished someone would have swatted her ass about ten minutes after meeting her. She was not a character so much as a SNL skit that stumbled into the movie. Don’t get me started on Jason Bateman, who I normally find fun to watch, but in this case he clearly wasn’t up to the task of playing a role, which I’m certain only had one requirement: the actor had to be a Jason Bateman type.
I read the novel on which the film is based before it was cool, so when did finally decide to screen it I came to it with extremely low expectations. The fact I enjoyed the film at all is testament to my abilities to lower my expectations rather than any feats of cinematic greatness contained in the film. That said, I did really dig the opening credits.