UP IN THE AIR: The Film Babble Blog Review

UP IN THE AIR (Dir. Jason Reitman, 2009)

George Clooney’s third film of the last quarter of 2009 has “the last movie star” (Time Magazine’s words – not mine) in a much more recognizable role than his last 2 efforts. It’s not just because he’s not a mustached military man or an animated fox, it’s that he has a more recognizable character arc: slick professional who believes he has all the answers glides through life until realizing that there’s emptiness to it all which he desperately and clumsily tries to remedy.

This is also the character arc of director Jason Reitman’s first film THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, which UP IN THE AIR closely resembles at times especially in its opening introductory montage. Clooney’s voice-over narration, accompanying aerial shots of many American cities, tells us that he is a corporate downsizer. He flies all over the country to conduct formal sit-downs with employees to tell them that they are being laid off. He is very good at his job and prefers the 322 days of the year that he is on the road to the 43 that he is home in his sterile white walled rental unit of an apartment in Omaha.

Clooney’s frequent flyer lifestyle is threatened when his boss (a lightly bearded slightly jaded Jason Bateman) brings in a young consultant (Anna Kendrick) who has plans to replace the face-to-face meetings with video conferencing. Bateman sends Kendrick on the road with Clooney so she can be shown the ropes. Clooney hopes this will show her the flaws in what he believes to be a flawed inhuman media method, but you just know that both will be taught essential life lessons by one another.

In a hotel bar meet-cute earlier, Clooney literally charms the pants off fellow frequent flyer Vera Farmiga. She nicely compliments his no-strings-attached philosophy and provides a counter balance to Kendrick’s wet behind the ears romantic idealism. After Kendrick’s boyfriend back home dumps her by way of a text message, Clooney can’t help but to make a wise-crack: “That’s kind of like firing people over the internet.” Farmiga offers, with much more sensitivity, some solid advice about how it won’t feel like settling by the time somebody is right for her.

These relationship insights blend into the travelogue mosaic of cards being swiped, more aerial shots, and the many firings, yet we just know that they form the crucial crux at hand. For example Clooney has the annoying task of taking along a cardboard cutout of his sister (Melanie Lynskey) with her fiancée (Danny McBride) to be photographed at famous landmarks for a wedding collage – this draws our attention to his ostensible freedom in contrast to his sibling’s ostensible stability with neither coming out on top.

The first half of UP IN THE AIR is breezy and amusing, but the second half descends into mawkish sentimentality with soul searching acoustic balladry in the background broadcasting what we’re supposed to be feeling. Clooney’s charisma is so pleasantly palpable that he makes the film appear better than it is while we’re watching it, yet its superficial effect evaporates once we leave the theater.

Still, most audiences are sure to find this film a likable lark. It’s well made and has a shiny gloss to it that often outshines its predictability. It also benefits from not having a neatly tied up conclusion – sometimes it’s best to leave some things right where the title says they should be.

More later…

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