Thứ Sáu, 25 tháng 9, 2009

Up in the Air
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner (screenplay), Walter Kim (novel)
Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman, Anna Kendrick, Danny McBride

Being the son of Ivan Reitman may have its advantages, but let’s be honest here: Jason Reitman has more than proven himself to be a gifted director in his own right with his first two critically-acclaimed films, Thank You for Smoking and Juno. He’s following in his father’s comedic footsteps, but choosing edgier material and smarter scripts, and is now well on his way to becoming one of those directors that A-list actors will basically drop everything to work with.
Still, there are some people out there who believe that the success of his movies have been more due to the writing and the acting than his direction, and while I don’t necessarily agree, I am pretty sure that his third film, Up in the Air, will change that impression considerably. Sure, the movie is based on a book by Walter Kim and stars George Clooney, but the subject matter is such that it requires a true emotional investment in the characters and just the right tone to work. When all is said and done, this could be the movie that actually wins Jason Reitman an Academy Award.
Ryan Bingham is a 35 year old man who works as a “termination engineer” — ie. an outside consultant who is hired by other companies to fire their employees. He prides himself on his ability to live independently and without attachment, is able to talk his way out of any situation, and enjoys constantly being on the go. Sometimes he does speaking engagements where he explains the philosophy behind his carefree lifestyle. His jetsetting lifestyle is threatened, however, when a young go-getter at his company develops a computer system to handle layoffs and firings via webcam. Not only does this mean he may be permanently grounded, but it also means he may not be able to see the woman he recently met at an airport with whom he may or may not be falling in love. This simply will not do.
Up in the Air is perhaps George Clooney’s most defining role to date: he’s smooth, self-assured and charismatic, but as time goes on we start to see the cracks in his armor. I seriously doubt that anyone else could have played Ryan Bingham with quite the same level of coolness and sensitivity. As much as he is selfish and smug, he is also fighting to maintain just a little bit of humanity in the workplace. Vera Farmiga (Orphan, The Departed) also turns in quite the impressive performance as Alex, Ryan’s sexy and fun-loving counterpart “with a vagina”; she has great chemistry with Clooney which makes for plenty of playful verbal sparring. Meanwhile, Anna Kendrick, who I thought was great in Rocket Science, is dead on casting for Natalie, the smarmy yet naive young computer whiz who is at odds with Ryan’s ability to do his job properly.
There are plenty of other interesting faces who turn up for cameos and small roles as well. Danny McBride appears toward the end of the film (although we also see him earlier on as a recurring cardboard cut out) playing the average joe who is engaged to Ryan’s sister, and proves that he can tone down the foul-mouth and attitude to do something a little more subtle. Zach Galifiniakis has a very brief appearance as an employee who is being let go, as does J.K. Simmons, while Sam Elliott has a great little part as a pilot, and Young MC even shows up at a corporate party to perform his ’80s hit “Bust a Move”. What more can you ask for?
Some other people who have “cameos” in the movie include about 20 different non-actors who appear in short interview segments talking about their own recent layoffs and how they are coping with them. These people were told that they were being interviewed for a documentary about layoffs, and the resulting intercut footage is definitely a nice touch, adding a sense of realism and relevance to what is going on in the movie.
There’s little question that Up in the Air benefits from being so damn timely, and as a result, it’s a movie that I think just about anyone can relate to in some way. Not only is the movie about downsizing, but it also has a lot of biting commentary on communication in the digital age. When you are able to take uncomfortable situations that so many people are suffering through and make them laugh about it without being insulting or presumptuous, you are doing something very special, delicate, and I think, necessary.
Anyone who was turned off by Juno and is now dreading something equally as quirky can rest assured that Diablo Cody had nothing to do with the script. This movie more closely resembles the dark satire of Thank You for Smoking, although I think it is much more mature and a stronger film overall. Once again, there is no clear in-your-face style, but the aerial photography shots and the airport visuals are gorgeous. The only point at which it falters comes toward the end of the film, when you get a slightly cliched romantic comedy scenario involving the sister’s wedding, which threatens to reinforce the status quo. Everything suddenly becomes drenched in sentimentality for a while and the indie folk tunes come out of the woodwork, but thankfully the movie throws a curve ball that avoids the easy way out.
Make no mistake, Up in the Air is an indie comedy with a ton of mainstream appeal, but it also has a deeper, human element that draws you in. It’s funny yet thoughtful, and it has so much to say about the current economic climate that we are living in, that it’s impossible not to recommend. Years from now, however, the movie will still speak to universal truths about relationships, career paths, lifestyle decisions and the grey areas that they inhabit. You may or may not identify directly with Ryan Bingham, but we can all learn a thing or two from his journey. — Sean
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