Monday, 1 February 2010

Up in the Air

Up in the Air

The trailer for this one elicited mixed feelings when I first saw it. Yes, Clooney works well in those matinee idol roles, and a play on the be-suited, suave sophisticates he often inhabits by twisting him into a solitary corporate monster, flying the friendly skies and administering firings to all and sundry, seems like a neat-but-safe take on a Clooney vehicle. 

Indeed, a wry and witty glimpse of the life of a corporate hitman, all painfully neat luggage and executive lounges, could easily backfire by absorbing the subconscious banal hysteria of these places and situations, these people.
A fair way into the film it plays more or less as you would expect, some nice touches, Clooney as Ryan is as charming as ever, slick looks at the way he operates in his lone wolf world (the actions of packing and negotiating airport terminals a finely choreographed dance) and the nice little twist of Ryan being metaphorically on the receiving end of his hired-help firing when hot shot graduate Natalie (Anna Kendrick) waltzes into the business with plans of cutting all the expense of air miles with the great idea of sacking people via webcam.
Thus begins a voyage of discovery as Ryan takes Natalie across America, relieving people of their jobs and learning something about themselves along the way.

A short while into this air-based road trip come the features that help set Up in the Air aside. Ryan has periodic hook-ups with businesswoman Alex (Vera Farmiga) when their schedules happen to coincide; they snatch nights of passion in hotel rooms with expense accounts. As Ryan comes to learn the benefits of human relationships, both through Natalie and Alex, he finds himself inviting Alex along to his sister’s wedding. Not having had much contact in years, things are strained and awkward, but things pretty much stay that way. Aside from a scene where he talks round the groom-with-cold-feet, we’re not positive that he has learned much from the event. Once Ryan admits to himself that it can be better to share and lays himself open to Alex, the inevitable disappointment on discovery that she has a ‘real’ life back home whilst his is all of a piece is not that devastating and more of just a shock - “you don’t know what you want” being such a movie cliché but also totally relevant here, with Clooney’s features trouncing the salt and pepper hair with the look of a lost, hurt boy. By the end of the film Ryan is alone, back up in the air after finally achieving his goal of 10 million miles of air travel, now meaningless to him. The fact that the film does not attempt a happy ending, or even any hope, makes this one of the darker movies to come out of Hollywood recently without the slightest whiff of violence.

Right here I’ll just say I really like it, maybe my opinion will change over time, maybe it just speaks to me right now, but it definitely strikes a chord.
The use of what seem to be 'normal' Americans reacting to getting fired at a number of points, along with a short montage at the end of how family, friends and partners helped them through it, not only highlights the almost sidelined issues of recession and redundancy that take a back seat to Ryan trying to work out if he’s lonely, but also thrusts that hopelessness further in at the end – sure there’s hope for some people, but for Ryan there is nothing.
A number of comedy character actors are used to great effect in essentially straight roles, including Zach Galifianakis, Danny McBride, Jason Bateman and J.K. Simmons. In fact the nearest thing the film comes to comedy relief is having Ryan sit numb as air stewards celebrate his 10 million milestone, only the 7th in American Airlines history, before bringing out a be-tached Sam Elliot as Super Pilot.

Essentially Up in the Air is about isolation and the virtually insurmountable task of making a meaningful connection with somebody. It’s the type of film that throws ”everyone dies alone” at you with no attempt to butter it up or make the character delivering it out to be wrong, or even lessen the blow by trying to come across as a film with ‘edgy’ ideas which are meant to provoke.

And Vera Farmiga is smoking hot in it.


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