Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Up in the Air

It's sometimes hard to form a natural true opinion of a film that seems to be radiating buzz and love from film critics, awards organizations, and other movie enthusiasts. Such is a predicament I experienced recently with Precious, which I had heard nothing better rave hyperbole all the way since January, but I loved the film anyway. On the other hand that was the case with An Education too, and I didn't quite love that one. Here's Up in the Air, which since September and its debuts at the Toronto Film Festival, where all the bloggers and critics and their ilk wrote up a storm about Jason Reitman's third film, and then came the early awards, and more reviews. And while the film is still fresh as a daisy in my brain, I think I'm ready to proclaim in the real deal. I've been rooting for Reitman since his debut film Thank You For Smoking, onto pure joy with Juno, and here is his most mature and refined piece of work. There's comedy, a little bit of romance, social commentary at hand, but a sign of a true humanist working in Hollywood. He may be a softie, but his films have resonance, and power.

Up in the Air, I think, packs more a punch. It stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham. Bingham is the go-to-guy for cowardly corporate bosses to fire their employees. So it's a glowing time for Bingham in todays America. He travels across the country, living in a suitcase, free from regular human commitments, just as Bingham prefers. On the side he's also a motivational speaker, extolling the dangers of a life full of personal attachments. "We're sharks," he states, "moving is living." He digs the flying, the airline miles, gold star rental car and hotel treatment (his mission is to get ten million frequent flyer miles, just because he'd only be the seventh person on the planet to do so.) It's probably the perfect role for Clooney, as it plays to his own persona of lone bachelor, and he oozes charm in the rare movie star breed that's lacking so much in today's cinema climate. In other words, Ryan Bingham probably would not be a very a likeable character played by anyone else, but it's also an accomplishment that Clooney, though seemingly never breaking a sweet, makes him not only likeable, but sympathetic.

His world is starting to change however, with the arrival of Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a bright and eager Cornell graduate with innovative ways of changing the rule of things and Bingham's cozey airtime miles. Instead of firing people in person, let's do it over the internet via webcam. She is then opted to be protegue to Bingham. The dynamic of the film changes, but in a revolutory way, and lots of that is based on the rapport between Clooney and Keener-- like oil and vingear mostly. Kendrick (previously of Camp, Rocket Science, and Twilight) proves a more than capable foil, and puts a fresh spin on her line delieveries. Again not the most likeable character in concept, but seeing Kendrick unravel and become more aware of the process of ruining peoples lives deepens the film; making it not always the light hearted comedy that advertising might suggest.

The other woman that challenges Bingham is Alex (Vera Farmiga), a female counterpart whom he meets and flirts while mingling at an airport bar. They are both obsessed and turned on by the casual up-in-the-air lifestyle..."moving is living." Foreplay basically consists of bragging about platinum cards and the best rental car agencies. The game changer is that Bingham slowly starts to fall for Alex. It's the most traditionally genre part of the film, but never falls into cliche, because the chemistry between Clooney and Farmiga is soooooo good. The pitter patter dialouge reminded me of classic screwball comedies of the 1940s.

The great thing about Up in the Air, and the quality that makes me confident that Reitman as forminable director is that the film never loses sight of its entertainment value, of it's lightness or comedy, but that it bounces back up into a higher pantheon of filmmaking because it's set in backdrop all too familiar to contemporary America. People are losing their jobs, and it takes a bold filmmaker to put on display a serious downer issue, and yet still make a very populist, entertaining film about the subject. The context is there and as a narrative Up in the Air feels more than anything else I've seen this a total 2009 time capsule film; this is where we are right now. The scenes where Clooney is firing people (and many of the victims are portrayed by real life laid-off workers) is just a poignant and moving and uncomfortable as the door stop scenes in The Messenger, another 2009 gem of timely subject matter.

So while my natural opinion might sound like hyperbole somewhat, I did naturally dig this film. A-

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