Friday, 8 January 2010

Clooney, Farmiga, Kendrick: All Up In the Air

Minor Spoilers Ahead
Jason Reiteman is a director I’ve always wanted to like. His debut Thank You For Smoking made my top ten of the year even though it was a flawed film, but I just could not be a fan of Juno regardless of what Ebert and thousands of others claimed. This season’s laurels have been thrown left and right at his Up In the Air – a film I was uncertain of going into it. The film centres on George Clooney’s Ryan, a man who hopes to attain ten million flyer miles whilst doing his job – firing people. He meets a female version of himself in Vera Farmiga while juggling with the new ingénue at his office played by Twilight star Anna Kendrick. This is Up In the Air.
I wonder if I’m a flawed critic, but then again – who isn’t?. I didn’t think I’d like this going in. Clooney is not a draw for me and other than Farmiga I didn’t really love the whole idea of this film. Up In the Air is the perfect example of a film whose ostensible merits are lost on me. I didn’t expect to be blown away by Clooney’s performance, and I wasn’t. I know that George Clooney only plays George Clooney so I could let that ride, because that’s how it goes. However, I cannot discern even any attempt at layering the character like he attempted in Michael Clayton, which I didn’t like very much either. For the first three quarters of the film we’re led to believe that Ryan is the ultimate bachelor as he mitigates the point of marriage and children. Towards the end after an epiphany, which is altogether too artificial, he reaches out to the woman in his life, and fails. But I can’t care that he’s crush because I’ve seen no change in the character. His face looks sad, but there’s never that personal feeling. That's because Clooney doesn't even look like he's trying Ryan doesn’t really change and the subtlety that the role seems to call for is lost on Clooney.
But on to the women. I mentioned Farmiga was my biggest draw and I was disappointed. Certainly she’s the best thing in the film, but even as she creates Alex as this ultra snazzy and smart woman I can’t deny the fact that she’s obviously acting. It’s the same problem I had with Ellen Page’s Juno. I see an actress acting, and not a person. Mind you with Farmiga it’s better, but still not all there. It’s only until the second half that I distinguish any authentic life in the character and by then the film is so disinterested in her uniqueness that it’s all for naught. Certainly, I may be a bit harsh on her because I expected so much, but this is not as good a performance as she can do. I will admit that her final scene is better than any prior scene. But though it’s enough to make me forgive I can’t forget what went before.
However the most mind boggling element has to be the much lauded Ann Kendrick. I’m in the minority on this one, but I don’t care. Whereas Farmiga and Page were fair to good examples of actors acting, Kendrick doesn’t even do that much for me. It’s an example of a girl trying to act – and failing horribly. That breakdown scene in the airport still confounds me a day and a half later at its insanity Kendrick’s crying makes me cringe, and not from the reality of it – but from the ridiculousness of it all which strikes me as so contrived. Something is probably lost on me, but I really don’t understand how she has turned into the runner up [albeit a distant one] of the supporting race which actually has more to offer than Mo’Nique’s powerhouse turn. 
What exactly is it about Up In the Air that makes it a film of the times? Is it because it deals with unemployment? It’s not the first film that asks us to root for the hero who is actually quite despicable but Up In the Air doesn’t even seem to realise that Ryan is despicable. In Thank You For Smoking at least Eckhart knew he wasn’t perfect, that was the whole point of it. When Alex shows her colours I don't feel anything. Why should I? I've spent the entire film feeling that there was no value to this relationship, and Reiteman does nothing to make me rethink that. That pithy final montage of Ryan returning to his ways plays and we can feel Reiteman trying to pull at heart strings – but there’s nothing there to pull. And that scene with the unemployed just feels so peripheral and superfluous. Were we really supposed to be buying that BS Ryan was selling about the goodness of being fired?
Up In the Air works as a pleasant, if uninspired film, but above that I really can't feel like the rest of the population. It just leaves me, unmoved. Reiteman has done his least impressive piece for me here.
C- [D+?]
Speak up. What are your thoughts on UP IN THE AIR?


joe burns said...

I liked Anna Kendrick. She was funny and she did what she was supposed to do.

Anonymous said...


My thoughts exactly....

Alex in Movieland said...

Seen it, thought it was nice, cathing and interesting, but not great. I don't think it will make my Top 10 for 2010 by the end of Oscar season, but it was relaxing and I for one liked the twist towards the end :)

3 days after seeing it, I'm more appreciative of Vera Farmiga, who's character is hot and interesting. however, even so I'm not sure she'll make my Top 10 for this year. And Anna Kendrick's performance is probably the most overrated factor of the film, but I don't dislike it. it's just definitely not on the same level (or... category) with Mo'Nique's.

but sweet movie, really. And it has the Adapted Screenplay in the bag. around 8/10 i guess

Jose said...

The thing is that the movie wants us to both feel contempt and envy towards Ryan.
But Reitman is such a lazy director that he knew only someone like Clooney could muster this. Reitman and the movie are so in love with Clooney that they don't care to question a single thing about his character. They just pretend to.
I really don't get what's so special about this director either. His best movie was by far "Thank You For Smoking" because it didn't take itself so seriously. Watching Ellen Page in "Juno" all I wanted to do was strangle her, nobody talks like that! And even if those quirks were the screenplay's fault, it's the director's job to add some truth to them and convince us this character talks this way.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

jose your entire comment rings accurate to me. and about wanting to strangle ellen page: that dialogue sure was something else.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

See, this movie just knocked me out. I disagree about Clooney: I've never seen him so vulnerable. That epiphany comes when he looks at his sister with her betrothed, and the pained look on his face as he realizes what he's missing out on. I loved that. Less Clooney here than in Michael Clayton, I'd say. Vera Farmiga, too, was fantastic -- definitely best in show, as you say, though I saw the woman more than the actress.

But oh, that Anna Kendrick. What an overpraised, miscalculated performance. That breakdown scene had me wincing.

Anonymous said...

I didn't have that much of a problem with Clooney, Farmiga, or Kendrick. Their performances weren't stellar, but they got the job done. My problem with this film is that it isn't worth watching. A man, who is happy and successful, is slowly convinced that his is miserable, and now he finds himself trapped in that misery. Why would you make that movie? Why would I watch it? I don't demand happy endings, but something more that that. Or, maybe, as i recently discovered, I hate this film because it actually lacks an ending. We established Clooney's character, we saw everything change, and then we need an ending. We need to tie up the loose ends, like what he's going to do with the rest of this life. Something. Give me something.

The more I think about this movie the angrier I get.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

walter at least we agree on kendrick, who is sadly being the most recognised of the lot. pitiable.

cinecritiqueamericain "The more I think about this movie the angrier I get": that's when you know you don't like i movie :)