Wednesday, February 3, 2010

UP IN THE AIR (2009)

On a surface level, there is plenty that I really like about UP IN THE AIR. It's tailor-made for the star, George Clooney, and a lot of what he does here demonstrates how far he's come as an actor. Jason Reitman handed Clooney one of the best characters and most entertaining to watch on screen this year. In a lot of ways, this is probably the definitive Clooney performance- there's the charm of Danny Ocean with the edge of Michael Clayton. Clooney is supported by a cast that brings their A game to material that they know is good and that gives them equal weight. After watching the miracle she performed by making ORPHAN a sorta-watchable movie, is it wrong how excited I am to see Vera Farmigo get good work? Farmiga and Anna Kendrick are great as the main female leads. I would be elated if Kendrick could steal the Best Supporting Actress award away from Mo'Nique this year. The scene where she first fires someone via computer killed me. So well acted on both sides, it is absolutely gut wrenching. Watching this gives you hope that all young actors can escape poor material (in Kendrick's case, the TWILIGHT flicks) and get at least one good role during their careers that makes all the crap work that preceded it worthwhile.

The look of this film is fantastic. The quick cuts of Ryan Bingham's (Clooney) routine, the overhead shots of cities from the air, the familiar ambiance of airports, airlines, and hotels. It is so slick.Every line of dialogue and every shot by Reitman is coming from an assured, confident place and the director and actors involved know exactly the kind of movie they want to make.

Unfortunately, the underlying themes are too weak to support the film they are supposed to support. The consistent question throughout the film is, "What's important to you in life?" It points out multiple times that some people can find their nests in life and some are destined to always be in flight. The movie didn't strike a chord with me nearly as much as it has with everyone else. I liked the movie, a lot even. But I didn't love it. I enjoyed the emotional journey that Clooney's character goes through. That being said, I would go so far as to say the similar IN GOOD COMPANY is a better movie than this. Reitman tries to combine the dark, frank comedy of THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and the emotional strength of JUNO, but ultimately fails.

Reitman did not get enough credit for his direction on JUNO. The buzz was mostly about Ellen Page's performance or the love/hate for Diablo Cody's script. As usual, the Academy is overcompensating for past errors by pushing the victim's next project too hard. It's not like the Academy shies away from well-made but hollow films. It's practically in their charter.

UP IN THE AIR strikes me as one of those movies only bogged down by the Best Picture conversation, and a film that will probably play a lot better a couple of years from now, when it doesn't have to compete against other dramas and can be as slight and breezy as it wants to be. The film deserves some degree of praise, but the Best Picture nomination is more symptomatic of an off year than anything else. It may squeeze into a few top ten lists for the year, but it should never be #1.

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