Monday, January 4, 2010

"Up In The Air": let George Clooney jump-start your existential crisis

Jason Reitman has had a distinct advantage as a young filmmaker. It's likely easier to find your artistic voice and master the art of visual storytelling when your father is Ivan Fucking Reitman.

Jason's first two films, “Thank You For Smoking” and “Juno”, were highly polished works in terms of their characters and storytelling, thanks to source material from TYFS author Christopher Buckley and Stripper With a Thesaurus Made of Gold, Diablo Cody. They were crisp in their presentation as well, as Reitman has a good sense of how to use the camera and editing effectively. Good storytelling and visual aesthetics, I've heard, are mildly important to the overall impact of a film, and Reitman has a handle on both.

“Up In The Air”, loosely based on the novel by Walter Kirn, is no different. From the opening credits, stylishly shot and edited footage of clouds and landscapes from the perspective of an air traveler ironically set to a funky cover of “This Land is Your Land” by Sharon Jones, the film embodies Reitman's playful style of filmmaking.

Our story begins with George Clooney, who plays the worst kind of management consultant. Rather than being brought in to help analyze a company's workflow, he's brought in for the sole purpose of firing employees the bosses are too big of pussies to let go themselves. He spends most of his life on the road, traveling from city to city day by day, and predictably doesn't have any meaningful relationships in his life, even with his immediate family. Trouble starts brewing when a young hotshot, Anna Kendrick, comes in to make Clooney's company more streamlined and economically efficient by making all of the firings take place over webcams. As his company seems poised to lose its personal touch and usefulness for gents like Clooney, he meets a woman, Vera Farmiga, with a similar lifestyle to his, and begins to wonder if his philosophy of living as light as possible, in both your possessions and relationships, is really the best way to go.

What we're left with is an almost-chilling referendum on what we all value in life. What Clooney must discover for himself is whether all the exclusive travel perks and miles are worth it if he doesn't have anyone special to share them with. This hits the hardest for Clooney when he finally caves into attending his sister's wedding and has a glimpse of what he might be missing.

There are no easy answers in “Up In The Air”, though, and Reitman treats his viewers with respect by not taking a Capra-esqe way out of the web he's spun. Although there aren't definitive solutions offered, at the end of the film you will have quite a bit to think about, and the biggest credit to Reitman is that he's made you smile every step of the way.

TOO MUCH: Reitman knows what he's doing – there's not much fat to be trimmed here.

COULD HAVE USED MORE: Small bit roles from Zach Galifianakis, JK Simmons, and Sam Elliott left me wanting more.

FILM SNOB NOTE: The montage of people talking about their experience of losing their jobs were actual people from the St. Louis area who responded to a call for documentary interviewees Reitman placed in the paper.

IHYFM RATING: FIVE out of FIVE MEHS. Will it as be enduring as “The Godfather” or “Lawrence of Arabia”? No. Is it one of the better movies of 2009? Yes. It's definitely worth seeing.

IF YOU SAID THIS WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE, I'D THINK: You appreciate the irony in the fact I would have seen this movie weeks earlier if my consultant friends hadn't been on the road.


  1. Nicely done, Joe, but I must offer one criticism. Should you not use the names of the characters rather than the actors when discussing their movie roles? Just a thought from a jackass journalist.

  2. I should for anyone not named "George Clooney", but, you see, I'm terribly lazy.