Up in the Air

January 2, 2010 at 6:44 pm (Movies and TV)

My family spent the better part of 2009 unemployed, and while we were lucky enough to land on our feet, we have several very dear friends we still hurt for, who might want to wait a little while before seeing Up in the Air. This ain’t no Juno, despite the presence of both Jason Bateman and JK Simmons.

I’m pretty sure my husband and all of those friends would have preferred to be fired in person by George Clooney — handsome, likable, compassionate — than with a phonecall or an e-mail. Some of the inherent discomfort in Up in the Air revolves around how emerging technology allows us to disconnect from uncomfortable situations, when it’s convenient. Firing someone. Breaking up with someone. Quitting your job. It’s so much easier to send an electronic message, isn’t it? But we lose part of our humanity in the mix, an argument that is successfully presented here.

Director Jason Reitman interviewed scores of recently-fired people to get their actual, unscripted reactions.  At one point, Clooney’s character says something to the effect of, “We have no idea how they feel, and no matter how we feel for them it’s nothing compared to what they feel.” Reitman held true to that and showed emotional maturity by allowing the dislodged workers to speak for themselves. Doing so was smart on two levels because it elevated the emotions, and presumably also helped some out-of-work people with extra cash. The song during the credits, “Up in the Air,” was written by a random person who had just been fired, and sent the tune to Reitman “in case he wanted to use it.” The recording quality is bad, yes…but…everything this musician has to say about being unemployed captures it pretty perfectly, and I really hope the song gets some kind of recognition because it gives voice to what so many of us have gone through and are still going through. I am obligated to do a shout-out to our family friend Danny Glicker, costumer extraordinaire, who was nominated for an Oscar last year for his work in Milk…keep it rockin’, Danny!

Clooney is effective here. He is getting much critical acclaim, but I must disagree when it comes to Oscar discussions. A Best Actor Oscar traditionally should be reserved for the actor who pushes his personal boundaries with a courageous performance (as Clooney did when he won his Best Support for Syriana). There is an extent to which I don’t think this role was a big stretch for Clooney, Hollywood’s most famous bachelor who goes from home to home, movie to movie, all over the world. I don’t think of Clooney as disconnected from people in real life, but I also can’t say the role of Ryan Bingham is so out of the box for Clooney that it warrants him an Oscar in the same way Forrest Whitaker got his Oscar for The Last King of Scotland, Ben Kingsley as Gandhi, Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, etc. In a sense this is Clooney, playing the less-famous version of his real self.

There has also been much said about the two women in this film, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. Unfortunately, at Golden Globes time, they are nominated against each other and for that reason may split the vote and both go home empty-handed. That is a shame. Farmiga is the perfect foil for Clooney, and Kendrick is annoying (which may have been the point, but…dang…she is REALLY annoying). Farmiga stands out, because she is tasked with a major plot reveal and hits exactly the right note with it.

Up in the Air is an uncomfortable film at the end of a terrible year. It is not a bad film, but neither is it great. Major awards it wins will be solely based on its timing, which was spot on in terms of capturing the national mood, and on the fact that it was a weak year for movies because of the economic downturn. This would not win Best Picture in any other circumstance. Every year, I go to as many nominated movies as I can, trying to guess which ones will come out on top. For the past three years, all of which I’ve outguessed Roger Ebert and in one case, won a national guessing contest in USA Today, I had an immediate gut reaction after I saw the Best Picture, and had no doubt I had just seen the Best Picture. That hasn’t happened yet, this season. You could say it’s still up in the air.

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