Saturday, January 2, 2010

Up, Up In the Air (san beautiful balloons)

Jason Reitman (son of iconic comedy director Ivan Reitman) is probably one of the most promising young directors around, having directed the darkly comic Thank You For Smoking as his feature debut, and following that up with the comically dark Juno.

So, while waiting for the lights to go down on his latest, Up In The Air, I had to wonder: Would it be comic? Would it be dark? What would the ratio of comic to dark be?

As it turns out, way more on the dark, not so much on the comic.

The story is about ruthlessly shallow Ryan Bingham, whose job it is to fly around the country firing people. The company he works for acts as a (very) short-term Human Resources department which has as its sole function the removal of employees in as painless and low-key manner possible. Bingham is glib, and so thoroughly disconnected from humanity that he actually prefers being in the air 320 days out of the year, and loathes the few days he has at home.

Played aptly by George Cloony and oh, my God! what did he do to his face? I wish I were kidding when I say that. I spent about 30% of the movie trying to figure out whether he'd been botoxed or lifted or what. And that's a shame since this is the kind of role he was made for.

Anyway, Bingham is flying around the country firing people when he gets called home by his boss (Bit Maelstrom favorite Jason Bateman). Seems that the latest addition to the firm, firm young Natalie Keener (Twilight's Anna Kendrick) has successfully promoted the idea of firing-by-webcam.

Cue existential crisis as Bingham must contemplate the notion of not flying all around the country. This plays out as Bingham flies Keener around the country to get some real hands-on experience firing people.

So. Yeah. Seeing people get fired for a good half-hour may not be exactly what the doctor called for in this economic climate. (Seriously, anyone looking for a veteran computer programmer/movie geek?) There's a buttload of acting, though, and we actually do gain a little respect for Bingham; there is some technique to what he does.

The other tension in the story comes from love interest Alex, played by the sexy Vera Farmiga (of this year’s Orphan and last year's Oscar bait Boy In The Striped Pajamas). Alex shares Bingham's love of the perks of travel, including the niceties that ultra-frequent travelers enjoy. As Bingham's work situation comes to a head, he also finds himself reconnecting with his sisters (about whom we know nothing till late in the film).

Can Bingham use this old connection to hel phim find happiness with a chick he picked up in an airport bar?

It's a well-made movie, with strong characters and believable settings, yet I wouldn't recommend it broadly. It's hard to explain why without some spoilers so let me just say that beyond the firings, while the movie's not exactly bleak, it's not exactly a pick-me-up either. (More dark than comic, like I said.)

Great little performances from J.K. Simmons, Bateman (of course), and Sam Elliott (who I swear is reprising his role as "The Stranger" from The Big Lebowski).

The Boy thought it was okay, but he expected more humor. This is the umpteenth movie we've seen this year that was made out to be funny in the commercials, but turned out to have a much more dramatic edge in the theater. (Adventureland, Duplicity, Observe and Report, Sunshine Cleaning, Management, just to name a few off the top of my head, all were advertised as being wackier comedies when they all had a fairly serious dramatic edge.)

A little more truth in advertising would be nice.

Cross-posted at Ace of Spades HQ.


  1. I spent about 30% of the movie trying to figure out whether he'd been botoxed or lifted or what.

    Oh, that's too bad. Why in the world would he do that??

  2. Sorry, have to disagree with you on this one. Well written, casted and directed - it was for us a very entertaining movie.

    A little dark perhaps, but what social commentary isn't these days.

    Thanks for the post.

  3. I was entertained (as Maximus would have it) but I would recommend it only cautiously, and not at all to someone looking for a comedy.

    I mean, I'm glad I saw it and I agree with your assessment—but the trailers are almost whimsical for this movie.

    From what I've observed, people hate going to movies and not seeing what they expected more than anything.

  4. Perhaps the movie's advertising was an analogy for the whole movie--what you think you've got [lifetime employment, admirable goal, possibility of good relationship] is really up in the air...[you get fired, your goal is a big, empty #7, you've misread that chick] in life, what you see is NOT always what you get.

    I love that Reitman, like in Juno, put in whimsical 'chapters' with a view from up in the air and screen helps as to what airport you were actually landing at...I also LOVED the Wisconsin scenes. That school? The Lutheran church? Absolutely REAL. The realest of the whole movie was the groom-to-be's angst and the Kinardly ring of the bride and the helpful older brother who nobody knows.

    I thought it was a confection of a movie with a real message and reasonably believable character development.

    I laughed out loud in the theatre [embarassingly] when the young woman had the confab with her elders and apolgetically told the feminist that she was glad for all they had done but she really, really, wanted the husband/kids/SUV thing. Laughed. Out. Loud.

  5. You know, one of the things I love about recommending movies to people is spotting the idiosyncratic things they love about movies—that make a movie an enjoyable experience, specifically for them.

    Like, I can watch Volcano over-and-over again, just because it's my stamping grounds turned into a volcano.

    So, I'm gonna note the Wisconsin thing, RAA, and keep my eyes open.

    Hey, have you seen Lars and the Real Girl? It was filmed in Canada, but has a Minnesota/Dakota vibe, a la Fargo.


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