Once in a while, a film comes along that actually lives up to the hype that surrounds it. It happened earlier this year with “Precious,” so I was skeptical when another film rolled along with weighty expectations and impressive reviews. “Up in the Air” has been this year’s critics awards junkie with “The Hurt Locker.”
First, “Air” cleaned up at the National Board of Review when it won Best Actor (George Clooney), Best Supporting Actress (Anna Kendrick), and Best Picture. Then it scored very well at the Broadcast Film Critics nominations when it snagged major nods from direction to picture, Clooney to Kendrick, with Vera Farmiga (Best Supporting Actress nominee number 2) along the way. All of those major nominations were repeated at the Golden Globes and Clooney, Farmiga and Kendrick rounded out the nominations at the Screen Actors Guild.
When a film has such high praise, it can often disappoint. Rest assured, “Up in the Air” doesn’t disappoint on any single level. It is a fantastic film that deals with the reality of our economy. It deals with the reality of our times. It deals with the reality of today. Perhaps in a way that no other film does, it truly speaks to 2009. If there was a time capsule that could represent this past year as a whole, it would have to include “Up in the Air.”
Directed with ease by writer Jason Reitman (director of “Thank you for Smoking” and “Juno”) the film crackles with wit, heart, and super-sharp dialogue and character development. After viewing “Air” I was reminded of the first time I saw “Sideways.” In fact, there are a few similarities and both films touched my heart because of the way they both skillfully dealt with age, decisions, and consequences. Another film in this realm would be the superb “About Schmidt.”
“Up in the Air” tells the story of Ryan, a middle aged, gorgeous (well it is Clooney) executive who makes his job traveling around the country firing people. Perhaps that’s a bit too simple. Clooney works for an organization which is hired by major companies who don’t have the cojones to terminate their own employees. Therefore, Clooney’s firm is hired to step in and help with the “transition.” Clooney is so good at his job that often his victims are persuaded to actually like Clooney and appreciate his news. However, the work that Clooney does and the travel associated is very expensive. In walks Jason Bateman as Clooney’s boss who has the idea of implementing the ideas of the young upstart within the company – Anna Kendrick. Kendrick’s character has the idea that simply terminating people over the internet via webcam would save the company about 85% in costs. Obviously Clooney doesn’t like the idea because he sees the importance of having a human deliver the bad news in person. Therefore, he is assigned with the task of showing Kendrick how it’s done and why her ideas simply won’t work. What follows is a lovely story about a man coming to grips with the future and a young woman trying to realize not only her place in the organization, but also the world (the world she dreamed of) around her. Clooney is as natural in this film as he was in “Michael Clayton” or his Oscar-winning role in “Syriana.” Kendrick does a lovely job with a tricky part that could be played as straight annoying. Fortunately, she finds the gray space in between annoying and naive.
The second (and thankfully intertwined over alcohol) story line involves Clooney and a woman that he meets at the start of the film in an airport. I suppose you could say that this role is the love interest, but that would cheapen it. It sort of plays in the same vein as Hepburn and Tracey. In fact, all I could think of when I watched Clooney and Vera Farmiga (OUTSTANDING, of “Departed” fame) was how Hepburn/Tracey they really were. The scenes between the two are fascinating. You begin to realize that one of them feeds the other in ways that their characters don’t even see that they need. The two twist and turn in directions that relationship films rarely allow. Of course, this is not an average film about relationships. In fact, it is probably better deemed a film about the lack of relationships. We watch these two characters get more turned on by their frequent flier cards than mushy sentimentality. We watch Kendrick become fascinated with Farmiga and the life she thinks she wants to emulate. In one word, it’s FASCINATING.
From the sharp direction to the fantastic script, “Up in the Air” speaks to 2009 and the economical climate in a way that I haven’t seen before. There is no fantasy here. There is no illusion to a better life. It is reality: funny, sweet, painful, annoying, snarky, touching, bitchy, rough…and real! The film, director, and star will all be nominated. I think it stands a real chance to go in the same direction as “Sideways” with a win for screenplay and nothing else. I hope that this film is considered as a real chance for “Best Picture” in an academy that is often too dumb to truly consider greatness. In other words, in ten years, only a few films will stand up as the best and “Up in the Air” is at least very high up on that list.
Kendrick and Farmiga will probably be nominated. Unless she blows it, that is Mo’Nique’s race to lose. Yes, oth of the “Up in the Air” ladies are great and yet neither can come anywhere close to Mo’Nique. Of course, that is scary because they are probably her closest competition. Again, WATCH YOUR MOUTH Mo’Nique.
All of these awards probably don’t really matter with “Air,” though, as it will stand up as the definitive film of the year. Nothing is harder to watch than the terminations in “Air” because you begin to realize that you aren’t watching as just an observer, but more as a person who could have a similar experience on any day, at any time. This is 2009.
Up in the Air (2009)
Release Date: Dec. 4, 2009
Running Time: 109 min.
Country Of Origin: United States
Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Danny McBride, Melanie Lynskey, Amy Morton, Sam Elliott, J K Simmons, Zach Galifianakis
Director: Jason Reitman
Synopsis: Ryan has long been contented with his unencumbered lifestyle lived out across America in airports, hotels and rental cars. He can carry all he needs in one wheel-away case; he’s a pampered, elite member of every travel loyalty program in existence; and he’s close to attaining his lifetime goal of 10 million frequent flier miles – and yet–Ryan has nothing real to hold onto. When he falls for a simpatico fellow traveler, Ryan’s boss, inspired by a young, upstart efficiency expert, threatens to permanently call him in from the road. Faced with the prospect, at once terrifying and exhilarating, of being grounded, Ryan begins to contemplate what it might actually mean to have a home. (From film.com)
Wayne Bell is a guest contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. He moved to Fayetteville in 2003 for his Masters Degree and you can almost always catch him at Little Bread Co. or Hammontree’s. For more of Wayne’s contributions, visit his author page.