Mixtapes for Hookers

Up In The Air Was Kind Of Crappy, Actually
January 11, 2010, 10:04 am
Filed under: movies | Tags: ,

Every once in a while I find myself enjoying movies that, as soon as they’re over, leave me irritated.  Sometimes it’s because a crappy ending mars an otherwise decent story, and sometimes it’s because the talents of individual actors allow me to overlook plot holes or dumb symbolism or unpleasant thematic elements.

Up In The Air has a good concept and very talented actors.  But it’s also a very, very irritating film.

As corporate sleazebag Ryan Bingham, George Clooney is handsome and debonair and charming and witty and delightful.  Because he is George Clooney and George Clooney is always those things.  Vera Farmiga is likable as the status-obsessed jetsetter who channels all of her spare energy into fucking, and Anna Kendrick is even better as Natalie, the annoying Cornell grad who gets teamed up with Clooney for a cross-country journey to fire people.

As a movie about the tanking economy, about corporate anonymity, and about airports, Up In The Air could make a lot of insightful political points, but for some reason it doesn’t tackle any of those subjects very seriously.  The movie literally has no stance on Homeland Security, on corporations’ spineless firing methods, or even on the unemployment rate.  Bingham is genuinely excited by everything about airports, from the expensively synthetic bars to the TSA checkpoints, but we’re kind of left wondering why.  He tells Natalie about how architecturally significant the Saint Louis airport is, but we barely get to see it.

So, okay, maybe that’s asking a lot.  This is, after all, just a chipper comedy about bachelorhood and, let’s be honest, it’s mainly just a vehicle for George Clooney to do his suave George Clooney thing.  But really, a lot of those parts are pretty lame, too.

Bingham, the eternal bachelor, is told by his nagging sister that he has to literally travel around the country holding a cardboard cutout of a happy couple.  It apparently has something to do with Amelie, because when painfully ordinary Wisconsinites plan their weddings, obviously they are going to incorporate elements from popular French films of nine years ago.  Begrudgingly, Bingham takes the cutout with him.  It doesn’t fit into his suitcase (symbolism! symbolism!)  and at one point, after fighting with Natalie about love (more symbolism!) he accidentally drops it in the water (oh my God so much symbolism!)  Is that really necessary?

I still haven’t seen Juno, director Jason Reitman’s previous film, even though everyone in the world loves it and it does star hunky manchild Michael Cera.  But many, if not most, of my problems with the movie stemmed from the unfocused direction and the bizarre editing style of Dana E Glauberman.  I’m totally fine, twelve years after Good Will Hunting, with the fact that whenever a character in any movie has an Important Life Moment that someone in the editing room will immediately respond by cranking up the Elliott Smith.  Really, I don’t mind that.  But in a movie largely composed of zippy luggage-packing sequences, the lengthy marriage montage of characters we actually don’t really know is simultaneously very jarring and very dull.

And oh, the bad jokes.  Or, not bad jokes, but almost-good jokes that always go a little too far.  The recent Cornell grad starting off a PowerPoint presentation by introducing the word “glocal” is funny.  The roomful of suits who don’t know how to pronounce it is not.  And would any adult human being  think it was okay to use the sentence “I like how you burrito-ed me in the sofa cushions?”

The ending is excruciating.  The last couple of minutes of the film are dedicated to unemployed people talking directly to the camera.  We don’t know who they are, so their opinions really don’t matter to us and maybe that’s the point, but the preachy, look-on-the-bright-side aspects are really cloying.  As is the terrible folk song (by a laid-off person) that plays over the credits.

The movie isn’t completely worthless–the Young MC cameo was a nice touch, and George Clooney really is excellent–but I totally don’t understand the rave reviews this is getting.  Movie of the year, Entertainment Weekly?  Best Picture, National Board of Review?  And now lots of Oscar talk?  I don’t know, I only saw like three movies last year, but I’m pretty sure that this is not the best that Hollywood has to offer.

1 Comment so far
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Thanks. I thought it was a film with potential–great clean look to the film— but required editing and script surgery by a smart person. And thanks for pointing out how over the top the symbolism scenes are. Vera got better as the movie progressed, but “Natalie” was miscast. Reference the crying scene. Clooney was the only one who was making an effort. Jason Reitman is a little smug in his clean-media 30-something offerings.

Comment by carol

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