Friday, January 15, 2010

UP IN THE AIR: MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Danny McBride
Director: Jason Reitman
Runtime: 110 min.
Verdict: Mr. Reitman picks up one bit of truth from a book, and envelopes it in a whole lot of barely baked social statements.
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Drama

        I’m pretty confused, but if a montage of people reacting to being fired is absolutely ineffective and feels most artificial and amateurishly filmed, does that position the film morally higher than, say a film, where two soldiers walk up to families and give them the news of the death of their closed one in Iraq and each of those scenes ends up more devastating than the one before. I’m not really sure, you see, because I couldn’t stop laughing while the opening montage played out in Up in the Air and the assortment of real people and actors recited what seemed like carefully conceived situations of firings. It was all so completely inane, I almost felt Mr. Reitman was intending the scenes to be somewhat similar in tone to little kids being handed out their low grades and reminders to call their parents. You know, you have a person played by stand-up Mr. Galifianakis, and there is the Clooney character ridiculing his post-firing behavior by generalizing it. And frankly, I didn’t mind one bit for at that moment it seemed Mr. Reitman intended it that way, and I was instead enjoying it.
        And I was wrong. The scenes were supposed to be serious. Up in the Air was supposed to be the American Beauty of this decade, somehow making a profound statement on the nature of America, and how lives are lived. And how is that? By establishing the ultimate event of our times, the recession, that rocked the common man and his dreams. As a backdrop. A dramatic one at that, where behaviors are generalized. And going nowhere with it, except to make broad statements about life and family. You should see the ending montage, When Harry Met Sally-style, where the same folks speak about their lives post recession, and the value of their families. It is embarrassingly corny. Oh no, not just that. It is dead smack in the middle of kitschy-land. So bad, it is condescending, and pretentious. I mean, what kind of a film would generalize a trauma and make dramatic statements out of it. The Messengers, for all its mediocrity, was at least respectful enough of the families to make the individual scenes specific. And more importantly, how hard is it to sell family and love to us? We are all alone here, some of us even lonely, yearning for the moment where someone’s eyes staring right into your soul and the whole world goes quiet just for a second. I know, it is cheesy, but you almost bought it didn’t you. Still the film cannot sell it.
        By the way, that cheesy definition of love and relationship and blah is the idea Mr. Ryan Bingham (Mr. Clooney), a professional at firing people. He does others’ dirty job. He is a janitor. He is the economy world’s assassin. That makes him cold, and distant, and just to ensure we get the cause and effect, he is a loner too. He belongs to nobody and no place. He does have a couple of sisters, but they don’t see much of him either. He belongs to the skies, to the airlines, to hotel suites, and to offices in need of downsizing. His philosophy is a variation of from Heat – do not carry too much baggage. He intends to live alone and have no attachments.
        But you see, dear reader, that is just the exterior. The bullshit we feed ourselves while we wait for the right person to come along. It is a façade we build for ourselves, a façade of lies that hides the utter vulnerability of our wait, and as time piles layer upon layer, we start believing in that façade of ours as a mode to keep ourselves from cracking down. And although that façade might be thick, it is so feeble it is often just a little moment that completely melts it down. Such a person is Ryan, and he is 34 or something, and he meets Alex (Ms. Farmiga), who if we choose to put it simply, is the male variation of Ryan. They meet, and share a casual relation, and the arc you shall see is predictable and convenient. And when I use the words predictable and convenient, I use them as compliments, for most of what is around is that concerns itself with the matters of the heart are indeed that. And then, Mr. Reitman pulls out a gotcha moment, about which I shall only say that it is completely false and utterly bullshit.
        Come to think of it, that is the nature of Up in the Air. It is one truth (Ryan Bingham, courtesy Mr. Clooney’s brilliant starry turn) surrounded by a whole lot of amateurish jabs at relevance and reality. Make no mistake, Mr. Reitman is a supremely talented hack, not given to the more obvious pitfalls of middlebrow sentiments, but a hack nonetheless who takes a more twisted route to achieve similar ends. The fluid and neat editing of the opening montage combined with beautiful pans depicts quiet brilliantly the comfort level of Bingham with this nomadic lifestyle where other people suck is just a case in point. Yet, Mr. Reitman feels the need to overstate his point, and ends the scene with Bingham verbalizing what the preceding imagery has already stated.
        The film though is a triumph of acting, and it alone carries some of the film’s lesser scenes. Consider for example the obligatory nature of writing where the family is walking out of the rehearsal dinner, and some stranger so conveniently walks by mentioning there is a box left inside so that Alex could be removed just to let the family trio have a moment to themselves. Such a sequence betrays the shallow nature of the filmmaking, and had Mr. Reitman not chosen the perspective of the whole family, and instead started the shot from Alex’s perspective, the scene would have gained that much more truth. It is in these little moments that the compassionate nature of a film and its filmmaker is revealed, these little moments that make that lasting impression. Or consider when Jim gets cold feet, and Mr. Reitman tries to conceal the absolute ineptness by concealing it behind some kind of humor. Even if you convince yourself that Jim was looking for one line, as Ryan has been looking all along, the scene still reeks with artifice. Yet Mr. Clooney carries it through, with that vulnerability that reminds one of James Stewart. What’s more they even sound the same. Mr. Reitman populates his films with talkers and Mr. Clooney and Ms. Farmiga are two of the most naturally brilliant line-deliverers we have.
        Still, Up in the Air, much like Mr. Reitman’s previous two films is jolly good fun while it lasts. If only you would not mind the intermittent dosages of pseudo-profoundness. I hear that the source novel had no such backdrop. I’m not sure, but if that were true, I believe Up in the Air has made a big mistake by attempting to lock itself within these times. Ten years from now, and nobody will even understand why those strangers were distracting us away from the tale of Ryan Bingham.

9 comments:

Amar said...

One agreement. Over the unnecessary cheesy lines used in the flick. Couple of opposing views: 1) 'Generalizing a trauma & making dramatic statements': Do you think by showing different people of different backgrounds Mr Reitman is trying to generalize a trauma? 2) 'Little kids being handed out low grades': I think Mr Reitman is trying to show exact opposite. Initially, it might make us feel as you described here; but as the film inches forward, you can see 'little kid' in the form of J K Simmons. And by this example, I can perceive Ryan's day-to-day life.

I think what Mr Reitman is trying us to do is to pay attention to the life of a person who comes into your office and fires you in the difficult time like a recession. And as you know, it was nothing short of a national disaster for US, though not for us. And hence, it is quite obvious that our eagerness grows about this 'heartless' person.

I think movie might be dated; but certainly not corny. Dated movies are not necessarily forgettable. Otherwise, people could have forgot 'All the President's Men' by now.

man in the iron mask said...

My counter-arguments:
1. Mr. Reitman, I feel, is generalizing it, because his opening montage, and his closing montage play not as individual moments, but a series of sentences. Look at the structure of The Messenger. It takes great pain to take each family as a completely different and specific incident. Mr. Reitman blows it over in one sweeping montage, and thus it makes him convenient to push it to the background. You see, it is Ryan Bingham’s tale and the fired people are just a series of occurrences. Moreover, look at Bingham’s tone. He might be ridiculing Natalie’s flowchart, but his opening voiceover serves the exact same purpose.
2. Look, Amit, I might want to disagree with the way you put the film’s structure here. It cannot be described as about the person who walks into your office and fires you because in the film he is not the outsider. The outsiders are the people being fired, and so, we quite naturally are intrigued by the people being fired.

And yes, I believe you might be confusing “specific” with “being dated”. All the President’s Men was specific about itself. It wasn’t about Watergate. How many movies do we really remember about Watergate? Instead it was about journalism, and it stuck to that perspective. Hence it is a great film, and a timeless one. Had this been specific to Ryan, it would have been a different story. Martin Scorsese never established< Vietnam, or Watergate, or anything. He just stuck to the tale of Travis Bickle. Hence, it is the most timeless of all movies ever made. It is the human emotions that make a movie timeless, not historical events. Tying them to the latter make a movie dated pretty easily. Case in point: who the hell even remembers any of the movies on Iraq and terrorism?

Amar said...

Why do you think that this movie is not specific to Ryan ?

man in the iron mask said...

The movie is about Ryan, but is not specific to Ryan. By opening and closing with those firing montages, Mr. Reitman undermines his aim to make the recession the background.
And if his aim was not to make it the background, and just provide for a contrast against which we would exclaim and remark – See, those guys lost the job but still have their families, and here’s Bingham who has all the material pleasures of life, yet is screwed. Don’t you think that we audiences are intelligent to understand that on our own, even without the contrast?
Now, forget this film. Pick up that wonderful Michael Caine click Alfie. Wasn’t it about the same issues? And doesn’t it feel timeless. I guess it does. That says a lot about the nature of Up in the Air

Ab Van said...

I felt this was 2009's Slumdog...If this film was ultimately about Clooney's character and how he changes his views on life, he could've been doing any old job which involves constant travel and yet his character would've remained relevant....In that case, why specifically a job that fires people? (if not for the obvious attempt to cash in on the recent "soft spot" global recession has created)

I did love the Clooney/Farmiga scenes and Clooney's "Backpack" speeches. But that was probably it.

The fat-bald man crying on the screen, Cheesy explanation to convince a person to marry and Anna Kendrick's acting in general were totally cringeworthy.


ps: Hazaar pissed when they explain "Glocal". They're turning Global into Local, OK. But since when did "GLOBAL" mean the just the map of USA?? (massive dose of WTF!)

Anonymous said...

How is it turning out for you, being a critique?

man in the iron mask said...

@Anonymous,
It would have been awesome if you had mentioned your name, but never mind.
The thing is I’m not sure why you choose the word “critique”, instead of being a “critic”. I am not sure if it is a mistake. So, do you mean, I am myself an object of critical assessment?
You know, it is absolutely strange, almost freakish that you ask me this question now, of all days. The thing is I have been the object of a critical pan-down, a good old fashioned dressing down, for the past few days, and it is one of the strangest, worst times of my life. You question feels so much more than coincidence.
God bless you!

Atrisa said...

Wasn't it supposed to be chic flick? I enjoyed it ;)

Parth said...

i remember a better film on more or less same theme 'About a Boy'..