Saturday, January 9, 2010

Up in the Air

"Is your mommy a docter? A scientific researcher of some kind? Well then she's hardly a credible expert is she?"

A determined bachelors crisis of career quickly becomes a crisis of lifestyle.

That Up in the Air's premise is poignant is not up for debate, but beyond it's relevance given the economic conditions we live in, it struck me as a bit unremarkable.
Usually I try to use references to other movies sparingly, and even then I rarely see them while still sitting in the theater; but by the end of Up in the Air there were other titles flashing like neon lights in my head. Three to be exact: Garden State, Sideways, and Thank You for Smoking (which I would later find out was also supplied a screenplay and directed by Jason Reitman). Three great movies to be sure, but movies I'm not sure would be as good spliced together on the same reels.
All of these movies were so good because they targeted all of their attention at one theme, exploring that topic as far as it could enjoyably go. Thank You for Smoking brings us the fast-talking Nick Naylor, a man who makes a living off the suffering of others. In Sideways we follow a man as he goes through what is essentially n on the road coming of age story played out 25 years later. And with Garden State we follow a man home to a family he's been avoiding it for decades.
In Up in the Air we meet the fast-talking Ryan Bingham, a man who makes a living off the suffering of others, as he goes through what is essentially an on the road coming of age story played out 25 years later and eventually to a home he's been avoiding for decades.
Now please don't get me wrong: that the movie has story elements in common with others is far far from a crime. I'm simply calling examples of how it's story elements should have been presented to make them work. I guess all that was the time consuming way of saying that Up in the Air is, in terms of story, a jack of all trades, but a master of none. It doesn't seem to know what story it wants to tell so it tells a few, and in splitting it's focus they all suffer. Sorry, sometimes you just have to take the long way around.
It doesn't help that all the stories it's trying to tell revolve around one leading man, a weight George Clooney doesn't handle well. He's a good cast for Superman, but not Clark Kent. He -in typical Clooney fashion- excells as the fast talker, but can't seem to bring vulnerable in for a landing.
Conversely, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick make short work of their roles, playing them pitch perfect. It's their performances that earn Clooney the emotional currency he needs to buy the audiences sympathy as the story progresses. In a movie so focused on it's leading man, it can be easy for the leading man to carry the entire piece. With Up in the Air, it's the supporting cast that carry him.
I know I'm in the minority on this movie, and I'm alright with that. That this movie will probably go on to claim award after award seems a given to me. However, I wonder if those awards won't be given based more on it's allusions to social climate than anything else. In my opinion the only one it deserves is Best Supporting Cast.

Watcher X says: "She was a bitch, but I liked it."

Reel Deal Recommends:
Burn After Reading: A spectacular movie full of quirky Clooney.
The Departed: An Academy award winning remake with the beautiful Vera Farmiga.
Rocket Science: A young Anna Kendrick gives an awesome performance in a movie you should definitely see.

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