In the last year, it’s been exceedingly easy to confuse a film about a gay man choosing to end his life (A Single Man) with a comic tragedy about a Jewish professor (A Serious Man), or to confuse an apocalyptic animation about ragdolls (9) with a all-dancing and slightly parodic musical (Nine).
Similarly, I’ve known many people who thought Jason Reitman’s Up In The Air was the one where an old man flew his house to South America with some balloons, so titles could really stand to be more distinctive in this day and age.
Instead, this is all about Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a specialist in corporate downsizing who’s contracted by squeamish employers to fire their workers. This requires him to fly all over America, free of strings or attachments, and that’s just the way he likes it.
Enter Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who has an ambitious proposal to modernise Ryan’s job using video conferencing. From here, it becomes something of a road movie, albeit a road movie mostly progressed at 50,000 feet, with Ryan taking Natalie with him as he shows her the importance of a personal touch.
Of the two films Reitman directed before this, Up In The Air is closer in tone to Thank You For Smoking than to Juno. It covers similar ground in that Ryan is estranged from loved ones because of the demands of his job. Nevertheless, it feels innately fresh and heartfelt throughout, with a witty script and some sparkling performances.
You might argue that Clooney isn’t really straying far from his comfort zone as Ryan, a suave and charismatic bachelor. Once you watch it, you know there are depths to Ryan that you wouldn’t see in any of those Ocean’sfilms and, come on, he’s played enough oddballs and idiots in recent times to deserve a return to more standard fare. He still knocks it out of the park, proving once again why he’s the only person from Batman & Robin I’ve forgiven thus far.
My incredulity at Anna Kendrick here knows no bounds after seeing this film. I had the nagging feeling that I recognised her all the way through, and a quick trip to IMDb afterwards left me flabbergasted. She’s been slumming it in Twilight!
It seems incredible to think she’s been suppressing the talents on display here as one of those superfluous characters who exists in those films to praise and glorify Bella Swan. Her performance here is truly revelatory, and with an Oscar nomination off the back of this film, I expect her career to really go places in the very near future.
Special mention should also go to Jason Bateman as Ryan’s boss and Vera Farmiga as Alex, who makes a decent showing despite being largely sidelined for much of the film. Although Alex’s line “Think of me as you, with a vagina” to Ryan gets some laughs, she’s there to teach him a lesson about companionship rather than stand as a strong character in her own right.
Up In The Air also benefits from the extra twenty percent awesomeness quotient I award to any film for featuring Sam Elliott, who seems to be channelling his role in The Big Lebowski here. That’s no bad thing, and his role is small anyway. It’s just always nice to see the guy.
In the context of the recovering world economy, the film has a particularly timely subject matter. Reitman deploys talking heads shots with people who really did lose their jobs during the recession, lending the film an extra air of realism. Although it’s just not practical to do what Clooney does and embark on an affair with Vera Farmiga, the underlying message is that your job shouldn’t define who you are as a person.
Maybe it touched me particularly because I lost two jobs as a result of the recession, so maybe it’s like a particularly timely joke or the war in Vietnam: you had to be there.
Even with that aside, though, I think this is a really terrific film. In another year, it might have won that Best Picture Oscar, but then, in another year it wouldn’t have as much contextual significance. Either way, it should have won Best Adapted Screenplay instead of the vastly overrated Precious: Based On Blah Blah Blah Whatever.
Up In The Air excels as a character study and also as a romantic comedy on some levels. Despite an utterly schmaltzy last line that left me feeling a little nauseous, the screenplay is very well written, and rarely predictable. It evokes another age of filmmaking while still sensitively addressing contemporary issues.
Films like this have previously gotten bare bones releases, but there’s a satisfying package of extras to be found on Paramount’s release of Up In The Air.
For starters, there’s a commentary featuring Jason Reitman, director of photography Eric Steelberg and first assistant director Jason Blumenfeld. With these three at the mic, you’d be forgiven for expecting a more technical dissection of the film, but this is a really interesting commentary with real insight throughout.
Reitman also provides commentary for the five deleted scenes, with a further eight promised as an exclusive to Blu-ray buyers. Of what I’ve seen on the DVD version, there’s nothing that was truly essential to the film. Nevertheless, two sequences were particularly interesting.
Firstly, a dream sequence that sees Ryan in an astronaut suit as he disembarks from a plane and walks through whichever state he’s landed in next. He’s depicted as utterly isolated in these scenes, but as Reitman points out in the commentary, it would’ve seemed jarring in a film otherwise grounded in reality. He also points out that the scene took many days to shoot, and it’s well worth a look.
Secondly, there’s an extended section of the film when Ryan decides to become domesticated, buying a condo and getting ready to settle down with Alex. She doesn’t show, and he regresses again. While it would ultimately have slowed the film down, it’s amazing that the film still feels coherent, knowing that such a seemingly important section was excised.
Rounding out the disc are two trailers for the film and a short featurette, Shadowplay: Before The Story, in which the making of the title sequence is discussed.
It’s not the most probing set of extras you’ll ever find and, by all accounts, it seems the Blu-ray exclusive features have more to offer.
The Movie:The Disc:
Up In The Air will be released on May 24 and can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.