Thursday, December 31, 2009

Movie Review: Up in the Air

Up in the Air is an ethereal movie-going experience. I don't think there is any other way to put it. The movie is relevant, realistic, and at the same time, oddly beautiful. While the movie starts off snarky and very savvy, it later on slips into the true realities of life and meaning.

The film stars George Clooney as downsizing expert, Ryan Bingham. Ryan works for a corporation who loans out guys like Ryan to big companies all over the country to lay off their work force, so essentially he fires people for a salary. Ryan has no real connections in his life and considers airport terminals his home.  Seeing as how he nearly has 10 million frequent flyer miles and is traveling about 320 days out of the year, I'd say that is an astute observation.  Ryan's way of life is threatened when a young college grad starts working alongside him and has developed a way to fire people via webchat rather than traveling all over the country at an expense. Ryan is opposed, but has a chance to possibly settle down with Alex (played to crisp perfection by Vera Farmiga), a soul mate if there ever has been. She is a frequently flyer too, and as stated in the film, is essentially the female version of Ryan.

It's kind of odd watching this film and wondering whether the filmmakers had any idea what kind of state our nation's economy would be in at this time. I guess it was foresight or whatnot, but the film plays out so much more powerfully in this current economic crisis than I think it would in any other time. Much like The Grapes of Wrath, Up in the Air captures the realities of this economy. What it captures though isn't Midwest farmers, but rather the turmoil of the corporate world, where nearly every company is downsizing and having to lay people off. This is played out wonderfully in many sequences, in particular when actor J.K. Simmons steps in for a small one scene cameo, but he makes the most of it, as Ryan convinces Simmons to pursue his dreams of become a chef.

At the end of the day, this film is all about people. The recurring theme rampant throughout Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner's witty screenplay, is the concept of connection, and in some cases the lack thereof. Anna Kendrick is a delight as Ryan's young, fresh-out-of-college protege, who Ryan has been forced to show her the ropes. She challenges Clooney's character, and acts as if she has it all figured out, but Clooney just shoots her down like a one-winged duck. Then, there is Vera Farmiga as Clooney's love interest, Alex. Farmiga is very flirtatious in the role and plays off Clooney and his charm extremely well, so well in fact that you wont even see the truck coming when it hits. Though the real star here is George Clooney himself.

Clooney is essentially playing himself, but I think that is what makes this performance all the
more affecting. In order to have achieved the emotions required by this film, Clooney had to have taken a deep look at himself, and if like Ryan, he didn't like what he saw, we will never know, but it is that soul searching that comes across in this film and is a different breed of acting that we tend to forget. Clooney manages for you to feel empathy for Ryan, even though he isn't the most desirable man on Earth. I mean seriously, he fires people for a living! Even still, we feel deeply for Clooney when he is burned by his own philosophy of having no connections in life, and we feel a rush of melancholy when he finally achieves his goal of 10 million frequent flyer miles.  It's kind of a moment of, "What was it all for?"

The film was directed expertly by Jason Reitman, and I applaud Reitman's decision to film the corporate world with a slick expertise, and when the characters are out mingling in the real world, he films everything handheld, almost as if it is a documentary. Not only that, I think Reitman benefits here from having written the script, because he handles the balance between the comedy and drama extremely well. It doesn't feel like a flip-flop bouncing up-and-down upon the sole of your foot, it's just a smooth ride to the other side, very much like a Billy Wilder film in that way.

Overall, this is a special movie that is actuality extremely funny, but at the same time it is very down-to-Earth and deeply moving.

I give Up in the Air a 9 out of 10!

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