Saturday, January 16, 2010

Up in the Air (2009)

Here we have the typically quirky Indie Film template applied to grown-up subject matter, and the result is a movie that entertains but doesn’t involve. George Clooney stars as a freelance corporate grim reaper, a man who travels the breadth of this great nation canning middle management types with a highly professional style of faux sensitivity. Clooney relishes this life of airports, hotels and rental car kiosks, swiping his various elite status cards to break into long lines and rack up enormous frequent flier miles that he never intends to use.

He begins a liaison with a fellow road warrior, the sultry Vera Farmiga, and the two occasionally synchronize their schedules long enough to share a few witticisms in varying states of undress. The film’s best moments belong to a young business school hot shot (Anna Kendrick) whose newfangled ideas about firing people via teleconference threaten not only Clooney’s livelihood, but his beloved lifestyle of high flying solitude.

The movie seems to be most alive during Kendrick’s brief scenes, and it’s clear that director Jason Reitman is much more effective at creating 20-something characters than mature adults, as both Clooney and Farmiga seem quite bland in comparison. Clooney eventually has a slow burning epiphany sparked by his sister’s wedding and, due to some unconvincing sentimentality during a trip to Wisconsin, begins to question some of the underpinnings of his lonely existence.

But Reitman handles big revelations with the same too-cool-for-school ironic detachment that he handles everything else, and Clooney’s moment of insight seems more like a blind alley than a turning point. In fact, while the film works as a source of pleasant entertainment, it’s difficult to surmise exactly what Reitman is trying to say with the whole enterprise. The film has garnered praise and award nominations aplenty, but if this is what passes for the Great American Film these days, it’s not just our economy that’s in the crapper.

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