Up in the Air

Up in the Air (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Jason Reitman
viewed: 02/02/10 at the Century San Francisco Centre, SF, CA

It took me a good long while to get around to seeing the George Clooney film, Up in the Air despite generally strong positive reviews.  It’s hard to get motivated to see a film about a corporate downsizer flying around the country firing people and then coming to a realization that his life “on the road” aint’ all that it’s cracked up to be.  It’s not a marketer’s gem.

But the film is good.  Well worth praising, if not so much for Clooney, who is fine in it, but for it’s somewhat timely poignancy.  I mean, here I am, unemployed, watching George Clooney quite gently firing people all across America, and all the shock, upset, and disharmony in their reactions.  I mean, it would have been nice if my company had cared enough to hire George Clooney to fire me.

But seriously, it’s not just “the economy, stupid” but the recession that most resembles “the Depression”, great or not, and the reality of losing one’s job.  The messages tucked into the film about starting over, that family is important, that you can expect to take a month for every 10K you expect to earn to find a job (is that a real statistic or did they just make that up?)   Any way you slice it, the film captures itself an audience that can well-identify with what is happening onscreen.

Throw in “breaking up by text message” and even seeing Clooney “sexting”, you’ve got yourself a film of the times.  And of America, middle America, the towns and capitols of the Mid-West and all over.  The cities, largely seen from above or from a corporate park or an airport, the bland world of Des Moines, Omaha, Milwaukee, St. Louis…(my apologies to these towns) but the film’s milieu is that bland, dull office space where “real Americans” work.  And the irony that someone of Clooney’s looks and charms, who prides himself on his air miles and never setting down roots, would be satisfied with these types of places.  No New York?  No Boston?  No Los Angeles or San Francisco?  No New Orleans?  Nowhere outside of the continental United States?

And of course beyond the downsizing of America, Clooney’s character is pinioned in his potential downsizing of his life, as his company attempts to shave budget by ending the travel that is his life, in preference of firing people through video chat.

But Clooney’s crisis is bigger than his career.  It’s his lonely lifestyle that he is finally forced to confront, by means of his relationship with Vera Farmiga (his self-proclaimed doppelganger “with a vagina”), his kid sister’s wedding, and the influence of a bright go-getter colleague played by Anna Kendrick.  I don’t care who you are, it’s hard to feel sorry for George Clooney, even when he’s looking sad.

The film is directed and co-written by Jason Reitman, son of director Ivan Reitman, who has come to be a media and critical darling after his first two feature films Thank You For Smoking (2005) and the much over-praised Juno (2007).  While I would say that this film has a bit more going for it than his prior films, it’ll take more to prove out all of what he’s got going for him.

Up in the Air has kept me “up in the air”, first about whether or not to get around to seeing it, now with trying to feel definitively about it.  For Clooney, the perpetual bachelor, is the film some sort of self-referencing referendum on his non-settling lifestyle?  I mean, really, a character who claims that life is happiest when the baggage is the least encumbering, isn’t that just someone who is waiting to hear, “But what about love? Family? Children? A home?”  Even George Clooney isn’t going to always be so damn George Clooney, is he?

Who knows, maybe he will.

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