Film review: Up In The Air

Posted by Bel. The time is 4.15pm here in Wellington, NZ.

Up In The Air is an okay film. Your mum will probably like it. There's no sex in it (one bottom! ooh err! (not George's, calm down)) and quite a bit of the f-word, but not much more than on most telly shows that screen after 8.30pm these days.

It's fairly competently shot, with some pretty aerial photography and nice typography. (I'm not being flippant. Typography is important to me, very important. Lou can verify this.)

I've seen better use of airport architecture in, um, pretty much every other film featuring an airport, but I guess maybe they weren't too concerned with cinematography. E.g. Sam Mendes' Away We Go had a breath-taking shot of an airplane reflected and refracted on the exterior of an airport and Wayne's World has that fantastic scene where they lie talking on the car bonnet while the jet takes off above them. Oh yes. I went there. Just put Wayne's World up above this Best Picture nominated flick.

Because this film is really not that great. Thank You for Smoking was pretty good in terms of an American's stab at satire, although ultimately it left you with a hollow feeling; a slick movie about spin, that twisted your feelings but left you with nothing to grab on to. Juno was such a step up, with a solid emotional core and an actress the lead the film in a progressive arc - although still many people couldn't connect with the jargony dialogue, distancing them from the characters.

Up In The Air suffers a worse fate: characters that are not worth caring about, in a world seemingly populated with relevant issues, but actually buffered and drifting along.


Ryan Bingham* (George Clooney) travels around all over America all the time. His job is to go in to workplaces and fire people on behalf of their employers. This works out great for him, because he has Commitment Issues and doesn't like his family or women or anyone apparently - even though he is portrayed as being incredibly charming and, well, George Clooneyesque.

When a young upstart (she's totes Gen Y! gross!) comes on board with a plan to do it all via video conference, the Cloonster is tres upset because he won't be able to avoid his Commitment Issues any more. But also there is a love interest on the scene. She says, "Imagine I am you but with a vagina". I would not think that would be a good pick up line, but it seem to do the trick.

There are lots of short inserts of people being made redundant. At first I thought, "Oh, wow, yes - America's slow slide into financial ruin, how pertinent" but then by the end of the film it just felt glib. It had been a movie about the elite, about those who care about luxury, about privilege. Gen Y quits her job - and there is no reaction to this being an incredibly precarious move in light of the awful economic conditions, because, no, this is not a film about the economic conditions, despite its half-hearted attempt to gesture in that direction

And to top it off, the film is a goddam 100 minute infomercial. The product placements are all so integral that we forget that the logos and the name dropping are all highly sort after, complexly negotiated and extremely expensive advertisements. We get just an embedded reference to how Hilton's something something preferred customer card is just tops, delivered by our friend George on that huge screen as we munch on another handful of popcorn.


I also felt the portrayal of the women in this film was pretty average-to-downright-shocking. The scene where they talk about their "perfect men" had me literally howling. Who writes this shit?? (Oh, that's right...)

This is not a Best Picture movie. If George Clooney wins Best Actor for this, I will throw myself down on the ground and hammer my fists and feet into the carpet like a hysterical wee toddler. His talent is wasted here. This is Ocean's 11 level acting for him.

And it is yet another demonstration of the bigoted, misogynistic, creaking and decrepit system that is Hollywood that both (both!) women in this film have been nominated for Best Supporting Actress, taking two of the five slots. You cannot tell me that the Academy scaled far and wide and could not find women performing better roles than these in the last year...

* Did anyone else find it weird that this character had the same name as Ryan Bingham the singer? I realise no one else had heard of him until Crazy Heart got nominated last month, but still... weird.


Oh look: Ryan Bingham himself finds it weird. But he got to hang out with George Clooney. And he made the rookie mistake of being drinking at the bar when they won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song. Awesome.

2 thoughts on “Film review: Up In The Air”

  1. Yes, now you'll see why I was all "hell no!" at George winning Best Actor. Frankly, if it wasn't him and Filmmaker du Jour Jason Reitman it wouldn't have got so much attention at all. And if it was a film about women or something - it wouldn't have gotten any attention at all times a million.

    However, separated from the exaggerated attention it has garnered, I really enjoyed it. But, you know, I fly a lot and get stuck in airports a lot and so obviously for me the lifestyle shown triggered plenty of empathy moments (I am so jealous of his slick movement through security - mine isn't quite up to that yet (damned underwire!)).

    Re: the product placement: my reaction to that was to think it's a pretty fucken nifty way to get a film made. I don't think this film would have been able to be made so slickly (if at all) if they hadn't been able to integrate so much corporate investment. So thinking of it in terms of moving away from Studio control, I was quite happy to see all the brands mentioned (it won't at all make me use them).

  2. I think it probably also helped that his dad was on board... You know, the guy that directed Meatballs, Ghostbusters, Kindergarten Cop, Twins... Oh and produced a few flicks over the years too - IMDb lists over 50!

    Jason Reitman has very actively campaigned for this film - taking in his camera into interviews and tweeting about the awards seasons. His flipside coverage and use of social media has drawn a lot of attention to the film - which combined with the huge sway that his father holds in Hollywood has brought undeserved (yes!) attention to this lightweight film.

    I can understand that for a frequent traveller it would strike a chord - but didn't it annoy you that none of them were every shown experiencing any delays or losing luggage or having flights diverted...?? Again - the buffered world in what was supposed to be a film about our current harsh economic realities...