Nov 5, 2009

Up In The Air, down to earth

What a disappointment. Ivan Reitman's Up In the Air, much lauded at the festivals and talked up as a big Oscar contender is intelligent, dry, literate filmmaking of the kind for which we Should All Be Grateful. You also not find a more dramatically inert movie this year. The film has so much great script-writing, brilliantly filmed, that I felt terrible — awful — for being so bored. George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, whose job it is to fly around the country firing people for companies who don't have the nerve to do it themselves. His apartment is a spartan sockhole: he lives in the air, clocking up air miles, in intermittant contact with his family, his romantic life a string of casual romances with women like Alex (Vera Farmiga), a slinky executive with as many credits cards as he has. "Show some hubris," she purrs. Farmiga and Clooney click in the same way that Clooney and Roberts clicked in Oceans Eleven, providing elegant sexy fun of the kind You Don't See At The Movies Anymore. It's like seeing two snow leopards tangle. Here's the plot, though: Bingham, who takes pride in the human touch he brings to his job, is himself to be made redundant by an officious, pencil-mouthed college graduate played by Anna Kendrick. She wants to replace on-the-ground agents like Bingham with a computer screen: in the future they will fire people via satellite link-up. She's chillier than he is. It's a bit like Jerry Maguire, but instead of Tom Cruise getting Cuba Gooding Jr to liven him up, he gets someone even more uptight and controlling than he is. Bingham has to bring out her humanity. Even the set-up for the plot makes no sense: if Kendrick is to be forcing out old pros like Bingham, why on earth are they sent on a two-week road trip so that she can pick up the tips of the trade she is about to make obsolete? There's no direction for Clooney to move. Farmiga is Clooney in a skirt; Kendrick is Clooney with a power-point presentation. And Clooney is, well, Clooney, and he's as wise to his condition at the beginning of the movie as he is at the end. The film is too well written: the characters keep having to pause and congratulate one another on the crispness of the lines they've been given. "Big words," "Good line," "Quite a speech" and so on. It's a smart movie, made by smart people, for smart audiences, but it could have done with a kick in the pants from someone with a gut instinct for what makes a movie tick. It needed one of those maligned studio heads to come along and say "I don't get it," or "where the character arc" or "Can't we have him with a chimp?"

Oscar chances: Nominations for Best Actor, Best Film, Best Adapted Screenplay. No wins. It's looking more and more like Precious's year. If Gabby Sidibe bumps Carey Mulligan out of the Best Actress race, however, I will barf. Repeatedly. And explosively.

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