Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Up in the Air: Departure Lounge Lizard
Jason and Ivan Reitman’s film Up in the Air has had a fair bit of hype. It is supposed to be quality comedy/drama/romance. Unfortunately it does not live up to expectations. It doesn’t hit the mark on any of these.
George Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, is a specialist in “departures” – telling people they are being let go, fired, retrenched, down-sized, made redundant. He does this face to face, across the United States. It’s a lifestyle he guards closely: priority check-ins for first class flights, hotels and car hire. He has platinum card memberships galore. His life goal is to add a record frequent flier mileage milestone to his coveted American Airline Concierge Key. There is some irony in the fact that he lives in and for the loyalty program stream. Employers who are too cowardly to fire their loyal workers pay for his lifestyle.
Up in the Air has too few witty lines or amusing situations to be a comedy. There is plenty of dramatic potential but few really explosive scenes. The main exceptions are the emotional responses of unwanted workers. There is no bite, no sting, no edge – not even in the sex scenes. Mercifully we are spared the suggested phone sex of the kind that attacted Meg Ryan some controversy for In the Cut.
The people we meet are impossible to empathise with. Bingham could have reached interesting places as he wrestles with his empty existence. He doesn’t.
The film is just like Bingham: good to look at and shallow. The social satire is lack-lustre. It just isn’t a recession version of Wall Street. “We are not swans. We are sharks” has nothing on “Greed is good!” The debunking of our protagonist’s philosophy of life as an emptied backpack is an assualt on a straw castle. Most people want the baggage of other people and belongings in their lives. Ryan’s world is the essence of conspicuous consumption, just without ownership or commitment.
The failure of his dabble with other possibilities is pre-ordained. In fact most of the plot is disappointingly predicable. His fling with another high flier, Alex Goran played by Vera Farmiga, is a prime example of waiting for the obvious. She and Ryan are members of the Mile High Club, though with other people. She even warns him that she is very flexible, as if we hadn't guessed.
The fate of whiz kid Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) is similarly trite. Her plan to replace in-the-flesh interviews with cyber-sacking precipiates a fairly dull trip of self discovery with Bingham. Her relationship and her position at Bingham’s firm have only one possible direction. She learns the very unoriginal lesson that you should follow your dream not your boyfriend. Unfortunately she’s a bit too young for George Clooney for any romance to bubble - not really his type anyway.
Sadly both of the female leads are very forgettable. The boss at Career Transition Counseling Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) has a lot of scenes for little impact.
A lot of talent and resources have gone into the making of this movie. It's entertaining fluff at best. To labour the filmmaker's own pun, it just doesn't connect.