Monday, December 28, 2009

At the movies: Up in the Air

The Christmas-to-New-Year's period is my one big movie-going stretch of the year these days, so two days after hitting the local multiplex for "Avatar," I was back to see George Clooney in "Up in the Air,", which I thoroughly enjoyed even as I had to keep reminding myself that the movie wasn't called "The Air Up There." A spoiler-laced review (designed, like my TV reviews, to be read after you've watched the thing) coming up just as soon as I throw out a pillow...

"Up in the Air" works on a lot of levels at once. You can simply enjoy it as George Clooney's most unapologetically dashing, romantic leading man performance since "Ocean's Eleven," or maybe even "Out of Sight." He's been great in other movies, but often in roles that feel designed for him to run away from his own innate charms. (He did, after all, win his Oscar for "Syriana," a movie where he packed on weight, grew a beard, and got tortured.) Clooney has become a great actor - and the scene on the airport shuttle where he takes the call from Vera Farmiga may be the best-acted of his career - yet there's something tremendously appealing about just seeing Clooney be Clooney... at least until those later scenes in which Clooney sees the folly of this.

Farmiga and Anna Kendrick are also terrific, and the sequence where the older duo console a heartbroken Kendrick and then invite her to crash the party (complete with a cameo by a not-so-Young MC) was as purely fun a 15 minutes as I've had at the movies in a long time.

But "Up in the Air" isn't just the story of a dashing road warrior. It's a blunt and poignant look at getting downsized in the worst job market in decades. Jason Reitman's idea to cast real people who had been recently fired to talk about their experience was a nice touch. Even better were Clooney and Kendrick's scripted interactions with J.K. Simmons and Jeff Eastin (as the devastated guy in Detroit), the former illustrating Clooney's belief that his job can be about more than just letting people down easy, the latter illustrating just how brutal this profession really is, particularly at a time like this when jobs are scarce.

And, of course, the second half of the movie also beautifully shows how Clooney's personal philosophy is just as much a delusion as his professional one. His life is fun, but empty, and the 1-2-3 punch of spending time on the road with Kendrick (who's far more human and empathetic than her tele-firing plan would suggest), falling for Farmiga and going to his sister's wedding (where Danny McBride showed how easily he can dial his usual schtick into more realistic, dramatic levels) forces him to realize that he does, in fact, need other people in his backpack.

And what makes the movie feel particularly resonant, I think, is that Clooney figuring this out doesn't solve anything for him, any more than his platitudes really help most of the people he fires move on in the job market. Had the movie followed a more predictable arc - had the "When Harry Met Sally" moment where Clooney goes running to tell Farmiga that he loves her worked out(*) - it would have made everything that came before feel phony. Instead, Clooney ends the movie in the exact same physical space as he began it, even as his emotional life has been ripped apart.

(*) Fienberg (who didn't love the movie in general) complained that he figured out that Farmiga's character had a family early on, and therefore grew impatient waiting for Clooney to find out. I have to admit that I didn't catch on until right when he showed up at her doorstep - again, I feared that Reitman was going the cliched rom-cm route when Clooney bailed on his big motivational speech - and was floored when I realized what was up. But I can see how spotting the twist early (like the people who somehow figured out Donnie Wahlberg killed Bruce Willis) could make some sections of the movie drag.

I don't get to the movies a lot anymore, and I haven't seen a lot of the movies that are considered serious Oscar contenders. But of the films I got to in 2009, "Up in the Air" is easily in the top 3 with "Up" and "The Hurt Locker."

What did everybody else think?

44 comments:

Brent said...

Sorry. I found it pretty unconvincing. I wanted to like it. It had a certain amount of potential but, in the end, I thought it was pretty shallow.

The problem for me was that the Clooney character's philosophy is so transparently stupid and there is never any real justification for it, so it becomes pretty difficult to understand what motivates his character at all.

I mean, he says stuff like (paraphrasing): "we're not social animals. we're like sharks. slowing down is dying faster." But its just bald assertion. Its transparently untrue and as a life choice, it could really only appeal to the romantic notions of pre-adolescent boys, as Anna Kendrick's character points out.

So, for most of the film, the main character believes this ridiculous thing and we (or at least I) have no real sense of why he believes this ridiculous thing. Why, for instance, does he want to cut himself off from his family? There doesn't seem to be anything especially wrong with them. I kept waiting for something that would give his whole backpack philosophy some sort of personal resonance but it never comes.

On the other hand, I do agree that the performances by all the leads were great. Anna Kendrick is a really wonderful actress. I wonder how many remember her from the truly silly movie Camp.

Indeed said...

I didn't see the twist either - until right before she opens the door - so it didn't spoil me at all.
I saw the movie back in September at the Toronto Film Festival, so I don't think i've been spoiled by any of the hype about it. I just adored it and thought it had so much heart. As someone who adores George Clooney and ranks Out of Sight as a top-5 movie all time, this is now my second favourite George Clooney movie!

Raz said...

I didn't guess at all that she had a family, and I'm not really sure what clues there were to indicate that she did. So that reveal was definitely a gutpunch to me.

I loved the movie too - Clooney is completely magnetic, and I loved the intelligent dialogue. A few scenes brought me close to tears, but in a way that felt authentic, not manipulative.

However, I found the ending to be completely frustrating and unsatisfying. It seems almost unfair, and not really necessary, to the Ryan character to leave him in exactly the same place after all that. It felt like Reitman put him through all these paces for absolutely no reason.

jasctt said...

Sorry, Alan, but this film is so awful and amateur in so many ways. it was a major disappointment to me.

Sorry to say it, but this an wful take on the current economic climate. it i a film made by and for people who only fly from NY to La and never stop in between and know NOTHING of how ordinary people live their lives.

Clooney, whom I am a big fan of, is cruising here and this time, his smarm (and not his charm) reeks offscreen.

But the real problem lies in the direction. the pace is bad, the editing awful. the idea to put real unemployed folks in the film was a BIG mistake. if you know this going in (as I did), they COMPLETELY jar you from the film. JR thinks they are going to tug at the heart but what they do is make the film even more lame. JR: Please watch REDS to see how you do it right!

After JUNO, it is no surprise that he can't direct any thing.

Guys whose daddys are multi-millionaires shouldn't bother trying to make films about the unemployed and just fired. they wouldn't know hard luck if it came p and introduced themselves (I say this as someone who was laid off early this year and currently am making 40% less than my salary of the last 15 years. I know of what I speak).

While I love VF to death and hse has GREAT chemistry with the Cloon, her ac is bad and you can see it all coming from a jillion miles away.

And don't get me started o this AK chick. I do NOT get all the buzz around her performance. It is one note. In this pic, there are only two types of women:

VF = whore
AK = good girl.

Just bad and a real letdown all around.

NEXT!!!

Carmichael Harold said...

I agree with what Brent wrote to such a degree that I worry that he may be my alter ego.

I don't think you can start the protagonist's character arc with Tyler Durden's ideology and expect him to feel like a realistic facsimile of a human being (even with Clooney working his ass off to make him one). The movie set up a strawman as a character, and so anything that happened or changed with him felt entirely false and unearned to me.

That being said, Kendrick and Farmiga were fantastic. Farmiga had the best chemistry I've seen anyone have with Clooney since Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight.

Paul Outlaw said...

My least favorite of Reitman's three features. In fact, they get progressively worse as his filmmaking becomes more "assured" and acclaimed.

Art McGregor said...

Loved the movie and definitely didn't find Ryan's philosophy to be "transparently stupid."

I feel the same way as his character about relationships/committments. I don't quite consider myself a "loner" but his thoughts on marriage, women, work, etc. are about as close to mine as a fictional character's thoughts could be.

I loved the movie and didn't see the twist coming. I'm OK with the ending too. In fact, I really liked it.

Best movie of 2009 ... hands down.

jasctt said...

you must not see too many movies, then. Shallowest film of the year? no doubt.

David Thiel said...

I've known people like Clooney's character. I'm married to someone who, when I first met her, wanted nothing more than to be able to fit her entire life in her car and drive away. And there wasn't one easily definable reason that she had that philosophy.

What I'm saying is that I bought the initial premise. It wasn't "transparently stupid;" it seemed to work for him. As for the "bald assertions," every motivational speaker I've ever had to listen to makes those sort of statements.

One thing that I liked about this film wasn't that it wasn't as rigged as Nic Cage's "The Family Man." There too you had a successful, together guy who learned about the importance of human connections. However, that film came down so clearly on the side of the necessity of having a wife and kids, even as it depicted that family life as unpleasant and soul-crushing. If Clooney's character was given a BIG REASON for being the way he was, I think it would've rung as false as "The Family Man."

For my part, I found "Up in the Air" a little difficult to take at times. I'm at a workplace where the ax is likely to fall on one or more career employees in the very near future, so it was hard not to place myself in the position of the very real terminated workers seen on camera.

And, like Alan, I did not see the big reveal coming. It really was a kick in the throat. It's also another clue that the film doesn't think that family automatically equals happy. (I commented to my wife afterwards, "Okay, even if you *do* think you're having that sort of relationship, shouldn't you at least mention the husband and kids? For self-protection, if nothing else?")

I also found it interesting that the movie ended "up in the air." It's been described as a redemptive story, but even though Ryan sees what redemption looks like, he doesn't actually achieve it. There are signs that he has changed (my wife noticed that his movements with his carry-on were less precise at the end), but whether he gets there in the end is up to the audience to decide.

Anonymous said...

I also didn't realize she was married until he got to her house. As he was walking to the door, I thought "that's a real house (unlike his), there's a family inside." So I didn't have long to wait before he figured it out.

I liked it. Not recognizing the firees (other than JK Simmons) helped keep me in the movie rather than making me play HITG during those scenes.

JanieJones said...

Well I have to say that enjoyed the movie. I did have an underlying feeling that Farmiga's character had a family. I can't put my finger on why I sensed this but it was still a jarring moment for Clooney's character and myself when the reveal happened.
I enjoy Clooney and Farmiga. I thought they had excellent on screen chemistry.
Kendrick was wonderful as well.
However, I have to agree with two points made already.
1) Yes, it was a nice touch to include some that had indeed been effected by economic down sizing within the job industry but several of my client's have lost their jobs over the past 16-20 months. Jobs that they had for many years and were doing quite well. The very ruinous nature that can come was not equated in this film.
2) The ending left me feeling empty but I think that was the point. You isolate yourself, in the end, you will be exactly where you started. He opened up a bit and winded up, in the end, in the same place.

I did not find this film pretentious and self-effacing. I thought it was a very good movie (especially in light of most of what is released and called film these days).
It's definitely a top contender for '09 films.
I do not go to the movie anymore with movies coming out quickly on DVD and to premium cable but I was propelled to see this film. I'm glad that I did.

Alan-completely agree with you regarding The Hurt Locker.
Also, I am a Cohen Brothers fan and found A Serious Man to be another film that sustains most of their notable work, imho.

M.A.Peel said...

"I type with purpose." Great line.

The meta-stuff to Clooney himself was interesting, strange in a way. You look at this charming, handsome actor, who comes from this amazing, talented, seemingly loving family, and ya gotta wonder what turned him into the poster boy for detachment.

groovekiller said...

I saw this pretty recently as well and unfortunately, I didn't like it as much as I wanted to.

I am huge Clooney/Farmiga/Reitman fan (and now a Kendrick one as well) but the story just felt shallow.

The Clooney arc is something we've seen so many times before and Farmiga, though her performance/presence was amazing as always, was there to function mainly as a twist. I understand that her having a family was supposed to be a similar gutpunch to the audience as to Clooney but it just doesn't make sense of what we've seen of her to that point. It would have much better if Clooney had expressed his feelings to a single Farmiga but who also so espoused Clooney's previous 'no one or nothing in my backpack' mantra that she didn't want to be with him. That would have been a good ironic twist instead of a cheap one.

That being said, Kendrick's role as the sharp just-out-of-college woman with great ideas but no concept of the between-the-lines parts of her job was really good. Reitman's direction was nice and light and I like his decision to start the movie from Clooney's POV and with his narration (when he's a king in his kingdom) and then move to a more omniscient narration as Clooney becomes disenchanted with his lifestyle. Lastly, it was great to see the recently-fired folks on screen - not only did it probably give them some money they needed but also a chance to vent in a way they wished they had when they first received the news (what the French call l'esprit d'escalier.)

Comparing this movie in this year to the depth of those movies in 2007 that were considered tops in that year (No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton, Atonement), it's clear that this movie might just be the best out of the dungheap that has been moviedom this year (excluding Up and Hurt Locker.)

It was enjoyable movie but not a transcendent one.

Anonymous said...

I'm still shocked that critics are so uniformly in love with a movie, and especially a script, that is so obviously skin deep. I went in wanting to love it. I liked Juno, and there really aren't that many great movies these days. And I love Clooney. But from almost the first scene it all seemed completely trite and unbelievable to me. Just a few out of dozens of examples:

-- The meeting with VF in the bar. People don't talk like that. Fake and thin.

-- AK's pre-breakdown character was fake and thin, from her boardroom intro of the "technology" to her lugging a massive suitcase though the airport. Cliche after cliche

-- Clooney trying to get to 10 million miles as some kind of life achievement. DeNiro in Midnight Run wanting to get The Duke to LA on time was believable within the universe that movie created, plus it wasn't trying to be deep. Here it's supposedly his measure of worth. Whatever. And yeah I'm so sure he has all his shirts neatly pressed at his apartment. And I'm so sure he's happy to stay at Three star Hiltons in 2009. And I'm so sure there is a random "tech" party but no tech conference. If you're putting yourself out there as realistic, then be realistic.

-- I love VF. Great in Departed. But here she was one cliche after another. All her actions and dialogue here are cliche. Oh she is sexually attracted to his travel shortcut sophistication!!! She can open a window with a credit card!!! Thin thin thin.

-- Even though he's (for some reason) enstranged from his family, after 5 minutes with them HE is the one they call to talk the groom out of his cold feet. Not the best man, or their friends, or the rest of the family, but the black sheep guy who has no emotions or connections.

-- How is that reveal at the end possible? If he loves her, that means he has had at least one conversation with her right? And that means he knows if she is divorced or married, has a boyfriend etc. You know, the ultimate basics when you're getting to know someone beyond their Hiton Honors level. Therefore when he appears at her house (Midnight Run!), his reaction can be shock, but his feeling must be "hey you lied!" rather than "WTF?"

Avatar was more realistic and had better dialogue. The emporer has no clothes. Someone should stand up and say it for heavens sake.

--

Alan Sepinwall said...

Jasctt, cool it. Now. You've expressed your opinion of the movie, and you can debate other people about it's merits. But you don't get to belittle people because their opinion differs from yours.

Got it?

Dan said...

I like the movie a lot. It was very poignant for my wife, who lost her job 9 months ago and is still looking. I didn't find the film or the script to be shallow at all. I think I'm a pretty savvy filmgoer, and while I didn't think Ryan would end up with Alex, I didn't see the twist with her having a family in advance. The phone conversation between them afterwards was brutal.

It's not an uplifting film, but I didn't see the ending as unsatisfying. Ryan puts himself out there, and it doesn't work out. He learns to appreciate his family more (transferring some of his precious miles to his sister and husband so they can actually see the world) and connects with Natalie. He's sort of in the same place but he's changed a bit. Not easy for a guy pushing 50.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this movie a lot. I didn't find it shallow and actually felt that a lot of the themes in the movie rang true. Natalie's speech in particular about feeling like everything else was meaningless unless she found the right guy is a sentiment that countless people I know share, even if, like her, they're ashamed to admit it. And I agree the scenes of them crashing the party were the most fun I've had at a movie in a long time--in part because it seemed like exactly how that type of party would be and not just how some director thought it would be. I didn't see the twist of Farmiga having a family. In fact, I was convinced the twist was going to be that Clooney shows up at one of his sites only to discover that she's the person he's firing. My one complaint about the movie is that a lot of the scenes dealing with the wedding and Clooney's family could have been cut. In theory they should have given us more insight into his character, but I don't think they quite hit the mark. During those scenes I heard someone near me whisper "this is a completely different movie" and I couldn't help but agree.

Nicole said...

It's interesting to see the extreme differences of opinion about this movie. I managed to see this at the Toronto Film Festival, and while I liked it then, and still consider it one of my favourite films of the year, I always wonder if knowing that the actors and directors are in attendance makes the audience like it more.

It's a weird film in a way, because it's not a heavy drama like Precious, but not a comedy either, and I suspect that's where the allegations of it being a shallow film come from. And at the beginning, it does seem like Clooney is simply playing his persona. However, I did feel that he had changed by the end, even if that change didn't materially change his circumstances. Vera Faminga was great in this role and it was nice to see her as the love interest as opposed to the 20 year old. I liked Kenrick in this too, because she was the idealist to Clooney's cynic.

Zack Smith said...

-I DID see Anna Kendrick in CAMP! The scene where her character awkwardly sings "Time After Time" is funnier if you know she's a Broadway vet.

-Agree with others that some early aspects of the film -- Ryan's love of cheesy hotels and his initial dialogue with Alex -- feel cartoonish. I don't think there needs to be an overarching reason why he loves this stuff, but it plays as broad compared to the well-rendered emotions later in the film. But it does work on the level of showing how insular Ryan's world is, and how it's filled with in-jokes and references only he gets (to everyone else, of course, he's just the A-hole who gets to cut in line).

-Re: the ending -- Reitman said he wanted to do something like Warren Beatty in SHAMPOO, where the character is in a place where he has to figure out his next step. Having said that, I think Reitman could have used a few more cues to make it an ambigious situation.

When discussing the film with others, a number just assumed Ryan was headed back on the road. There's two subtle cues in the scene. First, he stops before a board of destinations and stares at it -- a callback to earlier in the film where Natalie says that if she had all those miles, she'd just look at a board and pick some random place to go.

Second -- and this is more subtle -- he lets go of the handle of his rollaway suitcase. Now, I looked at the script for this, and this visual beat was specifically spelled out.

So the ending hints that what Ryan MIGHT do is just head somewhere else instead of continuing with the firings. At the very least, he's contemplating it. And he's got a better relationship with his family, and a sense of what he could have. But, as in real life, he can't instantly go from Point A to Point B.

Getting with Alex would have been an easy out, but as she notes, he doesn't really know what he wants. He needs to figure this out, and work toward it.

At least that's a reading of the ending -- but those last visual cues are so quick, and the audience is still reeling from the Alex revelation, that they don't register. You mostly come away with a film where the lead character's redemption seems denied and he's forced to go on in a gray, depressing existence that he now knows is hollow. PRECIOUS seems like a Disney movie by comparison!

-Overall -- I'd call this a good contender for Best Adapted Screenplay and the individual performances, but I don't think it's a Best Picture contender. Great film on many levels, but it didn't quite achieve the cathartic effect I want from a Best Picture -- not necessarily a feel-good ending, but something where I feel like I've really absorbed some deeper theme or idea through the experience. But a smart film, and some of the best work from Clooney and Farmiga.

JustJoan said...

I saw a twist, but I saw the wrong twist. I was sure that when Ryan and Kendrick were called back to Omaha, Clooney was going to be fired. In some ways, I could have taken that more easily than the reveal that Vera Farmiga was an adulteress, and apparently one who saw no reason why she should not continue being one once she had gutted her road lover.

I wanted to love this, because I would willingly watch George Clooney in anything, but I kept tripping over some awkward baggage. For ever great scene -- and the crashed party is amazing fun -- there were big chunks of not so much to. The backpack speaking engagements were nothing in themselves, only paying off for me when he walked out to go to Chicago in the snow. Oh, and Ryan? Slip-on shoes are great at a security checkpoint but they suck when it comes to snow.

I adore Vera Farmiga. I loved in episodic Canadian television I cannot imagine ever choosing to see. I loved her in "Touching Evil" and I remember her vividly in an otherwise forgettable film, "Never, Forever," where she was inexplicably dressed like Shirley Temple while engaging in initually loveless sex to get pregnant. I will cherish the way she looks and acts here, and I will try to hold on to the one truly wonderful nanosecond between her and Clooney (although all of their scenes are magic): we know before he does that he loves Alex because at the wedding reception, he spontaneously kisses her shoulder. This was perhaps George Clooney's best moment in the film, at least for me, a big fan of the small, telling gesture.

groovekiller said...

Maybe my claim of it being shallow was too harsh. It was definitely a good film but it felt like a small film that was trying to say something larger or more unique. It might be that I was a victim of the hype or expectations based on the pedigree but I didn't come away with anything deeper than a 'Hey, that was an enjoyable way to spend 2 hours.' and an appreciation for Anna Kendrick.

Having said that (h/t CYE), a lot of the folks on the interwebs that I read and generally agree with like the movie a lot so it may just be one of those movies that falls just outside my usual tastes.

JeffE said...

I really liked the movie but there was one thing that bothered me. After the fact, it really bothered me that she went to his sister's wedding with him. If she was really just playing in fantasy land, why would she ever attend a wedding with him - much less his sister's wedding! That didn't seem to fit with the character.

Andrew said...

I don't get the level of vitriol that is being leveled at this movie. I understand the backlash from people who see it is a flawed film and maybe not deserving of all of the accolades and best picture talk that it is getting, but I am amazed that people are decrying it like it is the worst thing since New Coke.

I am in the camp that thinks it is overrated, but I still see it as a solid B or B+ movie. A masterpiece? Hardly. But a well acted film with a very good script and pretty good direction.

My biggest problem with the film isn't the twist, which I didn't see coming in part because I wasn't looking for one. I saw Vera Farmiga's character as someone like Clooney, who ONLY exists on the road, so I wasn't wondering about her home life.

My problem with the film was the humanist ending tacked on to what had been a decidedly non-humanist film. Clooney is open to letting people into his "backpack" now? Why? Vera Farmiga certainly taught him a lesson about that, didn't she? And Anna Kendrick was a prime example of someone who was worse off because of the relationships in her life. Sure, he sends a letter of recommendation to the new potential employer, but she has loaded up her backpack and left town.

As far as his family goes, I could buy him having a better relationship with them after all is said and done, but I don't buy him coming to the conclusion that his life is empty because he makes it that way and suddenly realizing that is a bad thing. If anything, his adventures in the film should reinforce in him how much better off he is isolated.

Mike F said...

Alan, share most of your thoughts about this film.

Really really liked it, but didn't love it. There's so few movies I really really like these days that I walked out of the theater really happy.

As a dark comedy, it worked. It was a real lampoon job on the slick business traveler. The opening scene of him gliding through the airport with efficiency and panache was just brilliant. For those of us who have friends who pride themselves on their frequent flyer points and carry on luggage technique, this rang very true and very funny. Even though its Clooney and thus the best possible example of one of these types of people, you can't help but gawk at the shallowness and dorkiness of his character. His dreams of joining the ten million mile mark and having the conversation is so amazingly ridiculous and it gave us a genius-level Big Lebowski moment later in the film. So as a dorky business traveller satire, this movie worked big-time.

As an anti-romance, I think it also works incredibly well. Every romantic storyline...from the girl and her unseen boyfriend to the sister and her fiancee to the A story line between Clooney and AK...they all worked on every level. They were funny, insightfully glib, suspenseful even...and most importantly, done with the same satiric wink that fit the tone of the rest of the film.

The only reason I can't feel like I LOVE LOVE LOVE this film is because I felt that it fell somewhat flat as a business satire. The laying-off-people company, to borrow one of Alan's catch phrases, felt too on the nose for me in these economic times. I had a hard time buying into that girl as a whiz kid or Jason Bateman's character making the decisions he makes. Whereas the other parts of the movie operated with a satirist's scalpel and a wink of the eye, I felt like the firing scenes and the home office scenes were operating with a duller instrument and far less flair. The suicidal woman, for instance; that was very heavy-handed.

Alan, curious to know if you agree...great send-up in the romantic comedy areas, great satire of the business traveler and the day-to-day of being one...but that the big business satire part of it doesn't measure up.

As for the best movie of the year, it has to be The Hurt Locker...that's one of the best movies of the decade...its NOTHING like Up in the Air...and not for the faint of heart...but its a great great film

Zack Smith said...

There is one other thing that bugs me about the film. My dad said video conference firings had been done through several companies he knows for years. Given that Ryan's company specializes in layoffs, in the real world they would have converted to that system years ago, and there's no way Natalie's idea would be seen as groundbreaking.

Also, someone else made me realize I violated the CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM rule of using "Having said that." It's so hard to quit that phrase!

Anonymous said...

A movie that was well acted and enjoyable to watch while it was happening, then ended so poorly that the unraveling process started before the credits came up, and it's been continuing in the two days since I've seen it, to reveal very little worth liking for me.

I think it's remarkable how a movie's ending can tank so badly that I really don't want to watch the movie again, no matter how great its first two-thirds might've been. And it seems to happen a lot. Filmmakers have a hard time coming up with a good ending.

-----------------------------------------
Problems With Up in the Air
-----------------------------------------

- Mixing in real life fired persons with actors playing fired persons was offensive and didn't work. The JK Simmons scene was a good scene by itself. Also, is Zack Galifianakis actually pouring bleach in the coffee and shooting at his coworkers or is that just a fantastical image making fun of the desperate and unemployed?

- Mixing Bust-Ass (aka Danny McBride) in with Clooney must've been Reitman's idea of an intriguing science experiment, but seriously those two guys don't belong in the same movie. The whole sister's wedding subplot was terrible, no idea what the tone was supposed to be. Are we laughing at these pathetic people, with the tiny engagement ring and the dim witted groom sitting in a sunday school room reading a childrens book, or is their lifestyle somehow preferable to being George Clooney? Odd, odd, odd. I liked seeing Melanie Lynskey from what may be the year's best film, The Informant!, but she didn't really work in this movie. I guess it was supposed to be commendable that Clooney talked McBride into going through with a marriage he'd apparently never given prior thought, but it's actually kind of disgusting. Unless I'm wrong and the tone was that "Clooney is heartless and doesn't care about these people, so he'll do what it takes to please them and get the fuck out of town," but the direction of the scene, concluding with his sister saying "welcome home" seems to indicate to me that his character has taken a positive step.

- Cliche 1 - Anna Kendrick has no idea how to move through an airport? Shameless set up for slick Clooney exposition of travel tips, although that was enjoyable as far as that sort of thing goes.
- Cliche 2 - Clooney leaves in the middle of his vapid lecture and runs through an airport. Not true to his character at all. Especially since running through an airport is the biggest cliche ever, it would've been clever if he had a revelation that he wanted to go declare his love to Vera Farmiga (and what man doesn't want to do that?) but since he's a professional he finished his speech and walked calmly through the airport to go see her.

- Note - When I saw VF and GC walking in the snow and Elliott Smith's "Angel in the Snow" came on the soundtrack, I was overjoyed to see that they did not actually make snow angels. Whew. Great song, bad placement probably.

- VF being married with kids was kind of a dumb twist, as mentioned above, simply her (single)unwillingness to settle down (or whatever?) with him would've been colder and better. The twist also didn't fit well with her going to the wedding with him, except as a way to make the relationship seem more serious, thus making the twist supposedly more poignant.

Dan said...

(Continued from Anon 4:35, whoops didn't put my name in)

- The second twist, of the woman who kills herself, rang very false to me. Not necessarily that someone wouldn't kill himself or herself upon getting fired, but I would think it would be someone without hope rather than someone young and seemingly confident. Since it was the latter it seemed to me that the woman must've been mentally ill more than anything. Of course talking about suicide in such a way is a difficult thing to do without sounding like a goon, but blame the film for going there instead of me.
- Since the suicide is the catalyst to AK's resigning, it seems to me more shallow than simply her realization that what she was doing was wrong. Does there need to be a body count to learn that lesson?The way the woman spoke in the earlier scene seemed like a way to fuck with the "efficiency expert" rather than a prelude to an actual suicide, too. So that it was actually a setup to a real revelation just felt really false to me.

-------------------------------------------

That's all I can think of now. The movie's stayed in my head but not for the right reasons. However during the movie I laughed a lot, especially at the interactions between Kendrick and Farmiga.

femmeperdue said...

I'm truly surprised to see all the comments disliking the film. I thought it was an incredible mix: funny/sad, romantic/anti-romantic, topical/timeless. The three leads are fantastic, etc, etc. And I thought using recently unemployed people and their own, personal reactions to the news packed a much more powerful and realistic punch than anything Hollywood actors and writers could.

And as someone who just flew over 3,000 miles so that I could lock-in my (highly) elevated frequent flier status for next year, everything about GC and VF in that regard rang perfectly true.

compain87 said...

I just saw the movie last night and loved it. I don't understand how so many people disliked it. It seemed a lot better than I was expecting and I had I had high hopes before even seeing it.

I thought the ending was great but to be honest I think we get a good ending when there is some actual closure. which I thought was pretty clear up until I started reading peoples thoughts here. I really am starting to hate the vague and ambigious ending that leaves it up to my own interpretation of the film. It seems like recent Oscar films do that more and more, I think we can argue certain things about films but I feel like the film maker should be able to put his stamp on the ending, after all I'm not the one making the movie. I was really expecting it to cut to the credits right after we saw she was married but thankfully it didn't. I wasn't sure were it was going until it went to clips of every laid off person saying the reason they found strength was not in themselves but rather in helping their loved ones.

I really didn't find it implausible that Clooney's character walked out on his big XX speech. It appeared as if he was becoming more insecure about his views on his lonely lifestyle. I guess he found it hard to give the speech when he actually wanted a relationship.

How am the first person to say anything about how cool the 10 million mile club was. He got his own phone line to call and even got to talk to "that guy" from The Big Lebowski(with the moustache and all, by the way he definitely seemed like a throwback to an old-school pilot that would have knocked back a few drinks before going back to the cockpit).

Really I think the big reason I enjoyed the film so much is the same reason Reitman liked making the film, I just like to travel.

"Everything you hate about travel is why I love it."

Cathy said...

Really enjoyed this movie, and I mean enjoyed watching it throughout, which is so rare these days. Most movies I'm either cringing at the volume, blanching at the brutality, or looking at my watch 3/4 of the way through.

To me this was the perfect balance of looks, humor, snark, sadness, and just enough thought-provoking to be stimulating without being emotionally crushing, as so many lauded films seem to be these days.

I wonder if some of the diversity in response is related to age? I'm older than Clooney, and the pragmatic world-weariness of him and Farmiga really rang true for me,especially contrasted with Kendrick. That they are each able to capitalize on this "life philosophy" (he financially and emotionally, she more to keep her life in control, but still wild) was not stupid, but rather clever, actually. I don't necessarily admire it, but I can understand the appeal of living your life that way.

dez said...

-Agree with others that some early aspects of the film -- Ryan's love of cheesy hotels and his initial dialogue with Alex -- feel cartoonish. I don't think there needs to be an overarching reason why he loves this stuff, but it plays as broad compared to the well-rendered emotions later in the film.

I got the sense that the "perks" were one way of dealing with the realities of his job (as he tells Natalie, he never checks on where the people he fired wind up because nothing good can come from it). He's already disconnected from his family, and he sure didn't need to start connecting with the people he was firing or he would cease to be effective (or, like Natalie, he would probably walk away).

I knew something wonky was up with Alex because we never find out what she does for a living nor much else about her. Ryan tells her about himself, but she doesn't reciprocate much. Also thought she went to the wedding because she wanted an adventure and an escape, although I'm surprised she didn't realize from that that Ryan was falling for her. But it was part of her fantasy relationship with Ryan, which he ruined for her when he showed up at her doorstep. I figure, though, that when she told him she was just like him, but with a vagina, he should have realized nothing would ever be serious between the two of them. The problem is that he changed and she didn't.

As for the ambiguous ending: I admit it frustrates me when people complain about not having everything spelled out for them. Here, we don't get to know where Ryan goes because even he doesn't know where he's going to go (kind of like the end of "Castaway," but way more depressing). Just like in real life. Is it really too much to ask the audience to think for themselves for a change? Or does every beat need to be spoon-fed? :(

DolphinFan said...

This movie works, period. It's got great comedy and insightful drama and it feels pretty damned realistic in so many ways that it's kind of amazing that it struck such a strong balance between scenes where I was LOL'ing and scenes where I just closed my eyes a little and said "damn that's the hard truth today".
I respect everyone's opinions yet some of the negative ones involving this film don't seem plausible to me. For example, it's not obvious in any way that Vera's character has a husband and kids--and the reveal is handled in a brilliant manner that neither demonizes her nor sanctifies George's character. One of the points the movie makes very clearly and strongly is that there isn't a single way of life that works for everyone, but alongside that it's just better to have people you can know and love. Unless you're a resolute and committed loner, which is something the lead character is plausibly shown to not want to be at the film's end.
And I personally think the notion of firing someone via a computer is as disgusting as the notion of breaking up with someone via text message or e-mail. It's hard to give horrible news face to face, but the movie shows that it does help because GC and AK could at least try to say something comforting and (this is important) constructive in leading people from complete despair to the facts they simply must deal with as newly unemployed.
If the movie had been insistent that GC was a bad person who needed to learn lessons and become good--and it veered somewhat into that territory with Amy Morton's judgmental sister--it would have been a hectoring mess. Instead it reminded me a lot of ABOUT SCHMIDT, another film about a man who goes from being a closed system to being open for changes. That film was superb and so is this one, YMMV.

Cathy said...

Oh,I forgot to say, above: I didn't see the twist coming until he was in front of the house, but then I instantly remembered back to when they were fake sexting, and she was switching between phones, and I had wondered why.

The other thing about her "not changing"--the real betrayal was that she had both, and at the end, he had neither.

sanford said...

I liked the movie as well. As soon as Clooney went to the house I figured she had a family.

As for Kendrick not knowing her way around the airport. I am guessing that she had not been out of college very long and had little experience about getting around airports.

This is one of the few movies I have seen where it would be interesting to know the back story for Clooney and Farmiga. I am guessing that this was not the first time that VF's character had not hooked up with some one. I wonder what kind of life she has with her husband that she would do that.

I would also like to know what made the Clooney character the way he was. Why was he a loner? Was there a relationship that went bad? Why is the family relationship so distant? It looks like he was the only successful person in his family. I would also like to know how he got in the firing business. I wonder how people do that job with out feeling bad? In the end Kendrick's character could not handle it.

dez said...

I wonder how people do that job with out feeling bad? In the end Kendrick's character could not handle it.


It seemed like Ryan handled it by keeping disconnected from people and focusing on his goal of 10 million miles. His whole life seemed compartmentalized. Also, based on what we saw in the movie, I'd guess he disconnected from his family because they had a hard life. His one sister looked weary most of the time, even after she was dressed up for the wedding, and his other sister was poor. Easier to disconnect from that than to deal with how you could help your siblings out, I reckon.

Anonymous said...

The problem with this film isn't that it's bad. It's that it's a complete and utter CLICHE in almost every conceivable way, but for some reason I'm still not clear on, every critic seems afraid to say it except for one (Denver Post). It's being held up for best picture, best director, best screenplay -- when the writing and directing was right out of the playbook, and lacked not only originality but believability. If you disagree with the latter, then you have never worked in an actual company, have never traveled through actual airports, have never stayed in a Hilton, have never tried to spend frequent flier miles on anything other than a George Foreman grill, and think a 50-year old man as savvy as this movie makes Ryan out to be could still be as clueless and out of touch about every single other aspect of his life. Contrived. Fake. A good movie to watch on an airplane, ironically, but not a good film, let alone a great one. Unfortunately, too many critics are now invested in their original reviews, so even when they have doubts on a second or third viewing, they'll have to still act like it was worthy of the praise.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was a great film. People here seem to be so concerned with the surface stories that they're missing the whole point: people can fool themselves into believing they don't need connections in their life, but ultimately they'll find out they're wrong. The pivotal scene of the film, which no one has mentioned (except in a rave about how "cool" the perks are) is when he reaches his FF goal aboard the plane, and the pilot comes to talk to him. The moment feels totally empty and horrible, and it does to Clooney, too. He knows how shallow his life has been, and is thoroughly embarrassed by the attention and the "accomplishment" of meeting this silly goal. The moment tastes like s**t in his mouth.
The final scene could be read as open to interpretation. But my favorite is that yes, he's still trapped in his job, doing stuff he no longer finds appealing, but he basically has no other choice, and he hates it now. He knows better than anyone the costs of losing a job, and he chooses to stay in his because it's what he's good at, even though now that he's had his "awakening", he has no taste for all the phony perks.

Andy Hutchins said...

Thinking more critically about the movie -- partly because of the fair rejection of some of the shallowness here -- I think there was a lot of smart, subtle foreshadowing going on.

Alex is an adulteress? Well, that makes that comment about "falling for the pricks" in the hotel lounge with Ryan and Natalie a little more important. (I also thought the mother-father-daughter dynamic of that discussion was compelling, especially the "wants kids" part.) Same with the enormous disparity between Ryan and Alex's miles.

Ryan gets called in to rescue the wedding? Well, maybe that's because his bit about freedom at the rehearsal dinner helped spur the cold feet. I read a fair bit of "clean up your mess" from that scene that made choosing Ryan make more sense.

And traveling by myself a fair amount, even though I'm young, makes a lot of the things about frequent flying make sense, too.

I thought "Up in the Air" was smart, well-acted, and well-told, but, most of all, a story of our disenchanted times. Don't know if it's the best movie I'll see this year/awards season, but I'll measure every story against it.

Anonymous said...

I am mystified by all the hate for this terrific film-- which may not quite be the best movie of the year, but is clearly the movie of THIS year (as opposed to The Hurt Locker, which feels more like the movie of 2007).

The two things I really liked about the film were that Clooney and Farmiga didn't wind up together, and that Clooney's character didn't get fired, thereby avoiding the cloying sentimentality that crept into the latter half of Juno.

oz

Susan said...

This is a film that deserves rewatching. I think the script is more layered and nuanced than we get the first time out.

And while there are aspects that I pushed myself into liking or rationalizing, here is what I adored about it:

* that for once, the man ends up on the short end of the emotional stick. That a woman can be the one who plays both sides of the moral coin and protects those she must (her family) and has minimal regard for those she doesn't (Ryan). As an aside, Alex's reaction to Ryan's being grounded (disenchantment with the fantasy) and to Ryan's showing up at her door (anger at blowing her 'real' life) were spot on, and revealed a complexity (I believe she and Natalie called it "being an adult") that Ryan had yet to obtain.

* that throughout the film viewers knew there was a twist but weren't sure what it was (would Ryan be fired? Would he fire Alex? Would Natalie take Ryan's job?)

* the final shot of ambiguity on Ryan's next step. He's understood something important about himself, and the emptiness of earlier goals, but like him, we are uncertain where he can and will go next.

Cynically, though, I would have had more feeling toward Ryan if he was unemployed at the end, rather than just relationship-less. To be 50ish and looking for work in this economy is facing incredibly low odds. To be 50ish and wanting to be in a relationship and look like George Clooney, is not.

Pirate Alice said...

I really enjoyed the movie. I was wondering if the people talking about losing their jobs were actors or real people, so thank you Alan for that bit of information. I went into this movie knowing very little about the plot. I actually thought it was going to be a comedy so I was very pleasantly surprised by the whole thing. I didn't see the twist with Vera Farminga having a family until he was walking up her sidewalk.
I really enjoyed the film. I'm not a huge fan of Clooney, but this worked for me.

Paula said...

Did anybody think it was possible that at the end of the movie, Ryan is choosing among places to go, i.e. living out what Natalie imagined she'd do with all those miles (go around the world)? Is it POSSIBLE that Reitman does not put Ryan back in the same place, as many have suggested, but "up in the air," not sure where to go but starting something new, just as he (pretended) to advise all those people he fired?

Anonymous said...

RE Paula:

That is exactly what is happening. The ending leaves the character with a choice. Take what he has learned, look up at the board, and go wherever he wants, or continue the life he has built for himself.

I hope he went to Thailand or Europe, but JR wanted the character to choose and thus had to leave the movie there.

Secondly, as an emotionally damaged person I can totally relate to the idea that having absolutely no obligations to anyone would be rapturous. But it is a false hope that would mean a shallow life.

Rick said...

I see I am the first commenter on this post in 2 months so maybe no one will ever see this, I thought this was a great movie in spite of the fact that I saw the VF twist early on. Other commenters complained because we are never told why Ryan is the way he is, and also that the whole wedding scene was irrelevant. I saw the move last night and was also questioning why Clooney's character wants to always be Up in The Air, but this morning I figured it out, and it comes right from the wedding sequence. Clooney asks his sister if he can walk her down the aisle (now that Dad is gone) this leads us to assume that he died fairly recently,his Mother however is never mentioned.
My theory is that Ryan's Mother died while he was very young, maybe around 6 years old. The pain that this caused made him never want to burden himself with a relationship that could hurt him again. I base this on the fact that the same thing happened to me, and it wasn't until I was much older (I am the same age as Ryan is in the movie)that I figured out why my life was like that. When I was younger I got to travel for free all over the world because my father worked for an airline. My life was like Ryan's only without the work aspect. I really enjoyed it and now I know why.
So this was a very personal movie to me despite it's flaws.