COOLSHITE – Up In The Air
Up In The Air – Movie Review [for CoolShite On The Tube]
- Dir: Jason Reitman
- Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman
Adapted from a novel by Walter Kim (who also wrote the novel Thumbsucker), Up In The Air could easily be another charming rom-com starring Clooney, but in the hands of Jason Reitman, audiences are in for more than they bargained for – and odds are they will be grateful.
Jason Reitman is a director that should be on everybody’s watch-list by now – he’s got a satirical style that is gentler (but no less sharp) than the Coen Brothers and a knack for dialogue and writers that has produced some of the best mainstream/fringe films of the last decade. With Up In The Air, Reitman blends the rom-com genre with a non-preachy interpretation of the human impact of the GFC.
Reminding us that one of the supposedly great things about America is that there’s always money to be made, Up In The Air follows the travels of Ryan Bingham, a redundancy consultant hired by firms who need to cut staff but are unwilling to deal with the soon-to-be-unemployed. Unsurprisingly, business is good – Bingham flies around the country constantly, confidently removing the incomes and security of untold lives while chasing his real prize – frequent flyer miles.
Bingham’s whole life is in transit; he even lectures on the empowerment of a life with no attachments, family or possessions – unaware that he is in fact burdened with arbitrary goals and his love of high status, insincere uniformity. When he meets the beautiful and equally self-assured Alex Goran (Farmiga) in a transit lounge, he believes he has found a fellow traveler in his no-holds-barred/no-strings-attached lifestyle.
However, this lifestyle is threatened by the introduction of ambitious graduate Natalie Keener (Kendrick), who plans to digitally revolutionise the redundancy industry, and reduce overheads by removing the face-to-face component – and thus, Bingham’s jet-setting lifestyle.
Clooney isn’t exactly stretching himself with this one; once again he’s a confident, charming, emotionally distant sexual predator of ruthless efficiency both on the job and ‘on the job’… but in the role of Ryan Bingham, a status-obsessed high-flying ‘transitioning consultant’, this stereotype is removed from the gaming halls of Las Vegas and rubs caustically against the lives of real people in a time of economic decline.
Reitman takes this premise a step further than one might expect by splicing interviews with real people who have been ‘let go’ among set pieces from character actors (including the always awesome J.K Simmons) in montages of redundancy interviews used to establish Bingham’s role – interestingly, Clooney doesn’t even appear in some of these interviews, which heightens the sense of distance that is central to Bingham’s success.
Apart from the clever commentary, this film is also superbly lifted above the usual rom-com fare by a strong supporting cast of women in strong roles – Farmiga is to be roundly applauded for bringing 35+ strength and sexiness back to the screen, easily holding her own against Clooney’s indisputable charisma.
Beyond that, the women in this film demonstrate quite clearly the value in the life choices that Bingham believes is beneath him; the dignity of his grounded homemaker sister Kara (Amy Morton), the naive faith and warmth of younger sister Julie (Melanie Lynskey) and the bravado and bluff romantic nature of young careerist Natalie.
All told, Up In The Air will bring Reitman a broader audience, thanks to the Clooney-factor, but it is easy to sense that this is just the latest installment in a growing body of work that appears to seamlessly blend familiar forms and genres with the issues and idiosyncracies of our times.