So once again we have survived.

Up In the Air

tn_upintheairUP IN THE AIR looks like a good candidate for the LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE of the year – the one I like but I’m kind of baffled by how intense the praise is during Critic’s Christmastime, the Season of Bountiful Awards and Lists. If I didn’t foresee that possibility I might not even review it – after all I recently discovered I didn’t even do a writeup of SNIPER, why would I bother with this? But this way if I start resenting it I can read this and get some perspective. I’ll have a record that I thought it was a pretty good movie.

It’s the story of Ryan Bingham, a guy who flies around the country to lay people off. He works for a company hired by other companies too chickenshit to swing the ax themselves. He has a whole rap about how you weren’t meant to be stuck in this job and you need to take this opportunity to follow your dreams. He’s good but, come on, people aren’t really buying it, except out of desperation.

mp_upintheairHe loves that job, prefers staying in hotels to having a home, and is obsessed with frequent flyer miles and gold cards and shit. He’s distanced from his family (even with his little sister about to get married) and mostly just interacts with one night stands. I guess he would be a despicable character except he’s played by America’s top charmer George Clooney, so you totally want to be his buddy.

Then one day his company decides to start firing people via teleconferencing instead of face-to-face, so his whole world is threatened. His boss (Jason Bateman of you know what part Too) lets him stay on the road for a little bit, but only to show the young creator of the new system (Anna Kendrick) how he does it. You may be surprised to learn that they resent each other, then learn from each other, etc. (SPOILER). But both actors are good enough to make it work.

Vera Farmiga (who is on my radar now after being cool enough to be in ORPHAN) is funny and sexy as a traveling woman he starts to meet up with who causes him to reconsider what he wants in life. To the credit of the script by director Jason Reitman it doesn’t hammer you on the head with the many ironies of the story: that this guy who lays people off as their industries change is now becoming obsolete himself, that the cold-hearted job terminator hates the new system because it’s so harsh and impersonal, that the creator of that inhuman approach is the one who inspires him to be a better person, that when faced with a change in his job he uses it as an opportunity for personal growth just like he told the people he fired to do. At the time it seemed like bullshit, but here he is living it.

The whole cast is good, and there are lots of small parts – Zach Galifinakas as a guy he fires, Sam Neill Elliott as a pilot, Danny McBride as his new brother-in-law (not as funny as he usually gets to be, but nice to see him getting a dramatic scene or two). The best cameo though is Young MC as himself, performing “Bust a Move” at a tech conference Ryan and friends crash. It’s not at all a wacky “he has a sense of humor about himself” scene. They show him respect, Clooney sings along and everybody’s having fun. But you know they’re thinking the same thing you are: man, Young MC is big now. And he’s still doing “Bust a Move.” At a conference for software engineers. Man, we’re getting old. Totally brilliant scene. And much respect to Young MC for having the humility to do it.

For the first half of the movie or so I was enjoying it but it wasn’t really hitting my emotions, even though these people are losing their jobs and these characters are pretty good. But then when it got into the family stuff toward the end it started to work more. Maybe it’s just the stuff I related to more, I don’t know. The part that really got me is a scene where Ryan and his two sisters are left standing alone together for the first time in years and suddenly they don’t know what to say to each other, it’s very awkward. Heartbreaking, man. But I can’t really tell if it’s earned, if it’s because the movie is working or just because it happened to hit on something that’s true.

If you compare the subtext to a movie like FIGHT CLUB it almost seems like they’re opposites. Ryan has this motivational speech he gives that’s about living out of your backpack. It’s partly a metaphor about not having attachments to other people (like a Jedi) but also it’s literally talking about not having a bunch of belongings to weigh you down when you could be traveling around all the time (like a monk, or like Jack in TITANIC). But the movie is definitely arguing against this backpack philosophy. It doesn’t like how he just has a crappy apartment with nothing in it that doesn’t feel like home when he gets there. It wants him to be traditional and settle down and have a place with stuff in it. But I’m not saying this is a conservative, materialistic message. I mean, if he realizes he’s spent enough time with one night stands he meets at airport bars I think yeah, he should settle down.

The movie started getting strong awards buzz before it came out because the National Board of Review chose it as the movie of the year. I looked up who’s in the NBR, and apparently it’s 110 “selected knowledgeable film enthusiasts, academics, filmmakers, and students in the New York metropolitan area.” I’m not sure who that would mean so I’m not sure if my theory is sound, but I’m guessing alot of them are critics writing for newspapers and magazines, worried that they’re going to lose their jobs, and facing those questions of deciding what they want to do with their life after they previously thought they had that all figured out. If I’m right I think that’s a legitimate reason to love the movie, but it also would explain why they’re holding it up as the very best when some of us just think it’s pretty good. It’s just something that’s gonna speak to those New Yorkers right now the same way that dog spoke to David Berkowitz. Except in a more positive, constructive kind of way.

Not a bad movie.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 at 2:33 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

27 Responses to “Up In the Air”

  1. Only here will you find a comparison between Up in the Air and Son of Sam. From the interviews I’ve read with Jason Reitman, it doesn’t sound like he’s trying to convey some moral message, it’s more like he wants the audience to decide for themselves what they think of his lifestyle and why or why not they disagree with it. I look forward to seing this movie as I loved both Thank You For Smoking and Juno (well, love is too strong a word for Juno, but I liked it) so I look forward to whatever this guy does next.

    On an unrelated note, we’re all debating stuff in the Hot Fuzz review and Jason Reitman looks EXACTLY like Edgar Wright. Like his brother or something. It’s kind of hilarious.

  2. Brendan – don’t be afraid of some Juno-love. I took my mother to see it on Mother’s day (yeah, I’m a bad motherfucker) and we both came out with huge smiles on our faces. You remember how I said that every film I saw in 2008 was better than I was expecting, whereas just about every film I’ve seen this year (at least the ones that didn’t involve zombies) has been worse? That was one of the ones that was better.

  3. Paul- I resisted Juno for a while and kind of gave a buddy of mine shit for owning it. Having now seen it, I think I get why everybody loves it so much, it is easily one of the sweetest movies in a long, long time. It din’t rerally connect with me the way it did with some people, which is why I held back a little bit. The only moment that really got me was when Elektra was holding the baby and the stepmom came in. My room just gets LOADED with dust at that point.

  4. that last paragraph is gold.

  5. Just wanted to correct something. It’s Sam Elliott as the pilot. Not Sam Neill. For some reason, this is a common mistake.

  6. AH FUCK. I always mix up those two Sams. I even considered looking it up to make sure I was talking about the right Sam, but I failed. I’ll fix it shortly, thanks Yvonne.

  7. Sam Elliot would have made a badass Paeleontologist in JURASSIC PARK though.

  8. Sam Neill would have made a terrible cowboy in The Big Lebowski, though.

  9. In the spirit of Neil LaBute, I suggest we re-film all of Sam Neill and Same Elliot’s films with them exchanging parts.

    Everyone, take 1/20th of their filmographies and start filming. We’ll meet back here in 20 years, our bodies broken and our lives wasted. Come on, now, chop chop, time is money.

  10. Ooh ooh, I get to do Event Horizon! Sam Elliott is gonna look amazing with his entire body crisscrossed with bloody wounds. Except for the area under his mustache, of course.

  11. Dibs on Blue Jeans Cop.

    I loved the movie but, if you were pushing me with great enough force for me to consider it a shove, I would but Up, Hurt Locker and maybe Precious over it. Of course, I may be changing my list further on Friday…

  12. It’s too late for me. I saw this at a preview screening months and months ago and even though I liked it then I resent it now. Too bad.

  13. Sam Neill is going to be awesome in those MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE episodes. Perhaps less awesome, however, in MASK.

  14. And thinking of Sam Elliott in MY BRILLIANT CAREER is just kind of creepy.

  15. Let’s be clear on one thing right now: Holly Hunter would _never_ have cheated on Sam Elliott with Harvey Keitel in THE PIANO. Nobody cheats on the ‘stache.

  16. I bags doing “Sirens” then. And yes, it’s because no one would personify an Australian Artist like Sam Elliot would, not because of the boobies.

  17. Sam Elliott is a goddam American treasure. They should hack his image into Mt Rushmore. Vern, any chance you could review “We Were Soldiers”? He is utterly fantastic in that one.

  18. http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/up-in-the-air-review-oscar-buzz/Content?oid=1251545

    This is a good review from the Chicago Reader about why Up in the Air is getting so much praise despite it not being that good of a movie. They deposit that since this year has been so mediocre that Up in the Air is probably going to win Best Picture but it really doesn’t deserve to win a Best Picture. Good read.

    Also, you know what I dislike about the film Juno. Juno really comes across as a giant bitch throughout the whole movie. It amazes me that Paulie Bleeker even wanted to be her friend let alone have sex with her. Luckily Jennifer Garner, Michael Cera, Alison Janey and JK Rowlings are all so likeable because they literally save this movie.

  19. Oh JK Simmons not Rowlings. Duh.

  20. Is that a new challenge?

  21. Dave: does the world need a J.K. Rowlings version of OZ?

  22. Damn, I guess this year really hasn’t been too good for movies. I didn’t think about it but you’re right.

    Also, the love for LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE was and is absolutely baffling. It’s a Wes Anderson movie for people who watch Oprah. God, I hated it. And yet people whose opinions I otherwise held in high regard kept telling me how good it was. Kinda like Vampire Weekend.

  23. Casey – I don’t think it’s been THAT bad. I daresay “Avatar” will be one of those movies, like “Titanic” and “Gladiator”, that absolutely runs the gamut of people liking, loving and hating it (indeed we’ve had opinions pretty much across the board on this forum alone) but it still seems to be worth seeing. I’ll probably catch it on DVD (unfortunately it’s also the kind of movie that attracts about five hundred screaming tweenagers into every showing as well, so I don’t plan on seeing it in the cinema.) I’ve mentioned before that while 2008 had films like “The Dark Knight” that was so much better than I ever expected it to be, 2009 has been one disappointment after another. Thankfully it seems to have ended on something of a high.

    Let me ask you guys your opinion about one thing though. A lot of people who liked Avatar (or more likely were being paid a fat wad by its publicists) were saying that you “have to see it in IMAX” for the full experience. As someone for whom a friend’s fifty-inch LCD TV is a little too big (I find the picture quality slightly lacking on standard-def content, and it’s just a strain to have to sit so far away from it), let me ask you this: why?

    The only movie I would ever even consider going out of my way to watch on either blu-ray or IMAX would be “Lost in Translation”. And that, besides being my absolute favorite film ever (and the one film that for me divides everybody I meet into people who “get” it and people who don’t – just out of interest, what movie is like that for you guys? The one film that gave you such a strong positive reaction that you found yourselves dividing people up into those who agreed with you and those who didn’t?) has to be one of the most visually stunning and utterly beautiful pieces of cinematography that’s ever been set to film / digital print. I was lucky enough to see it in the cinema, and that scene with Murray and Johanssen taking a taxi through Tokyo and crossing the bridge, on a 30ft screen in front of you… With all apologies to Vern, I don’t care how many times Alan Rickman falls from the top floor of Nakatomi Plaza clutching Bonnie Bedelia’s wristwatch, it may be thrilling but it never quite reaches the level of visual art. (And that’s even discounting the emotional resonance of that scene – the bridge, not Rickman falling to his death, I mean. Although I guess some people might’ve found themselves with a tear in their eye and a catch in their throat after seeing Hans Gruber’s death, for me he was never quite that lovable a character.)

    Anyway, going back to my original point: I get that Cameron has done his best to create a hugely detailed fantasy world, and even his critics seem to agree that for the most part he’s pulled it off in “Avatar”. Since I’ve not seen it yet, I can’t exactly make any observations myself, but my impression is that from an emotional standpoint “Avatar” is not quite “Lost in Translation”‘s equal when it comes to – for example – using Tokyo itself as a backdrop and perfectly framing long, langourous shots through taxicab windows in such a way that the mood of the scene perfectly reflects the mood of the characters in it, and doing so in a way that is both emotionally and visually breathtaking to behold. Nope, my impression of “Avatar” is that it’s about war, conflict and revolution. All of which means EXPLOSIONS. Big ones.

    I guess I can kinda sorta see the point of blu-ray when it comes to the latest blockbusters, although I don’t think the difference in quality is anything I’d ever pay extra for; but who on earth wants to see a fifty-foot high explosion? I don’t get it.

  24. That was such a good reply Paul that I can’t just leave it hanging (even though I think everyone else probably moved on from this entry).

    Why see AVATAR in a theater? Well, I actually do prefer to see my ‘splosions fifty feet high, but what’s more is that a movie like this is just better seen with an audience. If it’s as impressive as they say the gasps and awe make the experience that much more memorable. I can still remember the dumb jingoistic excitement everyone felt at the end of INDEPENDENCE DAY and the utter shock and confusion after MATRIX RELOADED… these memories become part of the movie for me, and that’s just impossible with a DVD. I would agree with you if you said that some movies are better seen on DVD, but the “event” movies aren’t part of that category.

    As for your question about what movies do I start mentally classifying people with… well, I don’t really have many I don’t think. The only cinematic litmus test I can think of is that if you don’t find LEBOWSKI funny I get a little suspicious.

    And I guess I would fall into the category of people who don’t “get” TRANSLATION. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, and although I remember it being well-filmed it was a White People’s Problems (kinda similar to LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE above) type of movie that I’m instantly repelled from. Though I still appreciate your obvious love for the film; on this big angry internet it’s hard to stick your neck out about anything you love, much less something that got as big a backlash as TRANSLATION did.

  25. Just saw it and loved it. I haven’t seen nearly enough movies to try and argue for it being the best of anything, but I did think this was sort of a really well done old school Hollywood comedy, the kind Billy Wilder had down to an artform with movies like The Apartment and Seven Year Itch. I didn’t really see the movie as being pro settling down and tying yourself completely to one place. If it was, I seriously doubt he would’ve had the reveal about Farminga, the more ‘fitting’ ending would’ve been Ryan and her hooking up for good. I think it is more that Reitman is exploring this character as completely as possible, so first he shows you how seductive and cool this no strings attached lifestyle can be, but then he also shows what you’d have to sacrifice in order to actually maintain that sort of life, then leaves it up to you whether or not it is desirable or not.

  26. haven’t seen this yet cause it hasn’t come out here yet, but i just found out the japanese title for this movie, and i thought i would share because it’s funny. the japanese title is MAIREEJI, MAIRAIFU which means MILEAGE, MY LIFE. it’s a pun, you see.

  27. Sam Elliot as Connery’s second-in-command, pining for a life in Montana with his RV and sister wives.

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