Sunday, January 17, 2010

up in the air

Apparently what everyone’s talking about in reference to this movie is the fact that George Clooney’s playing someone very much like himself. Up in the Air is the tale of a professional bad news man—someone whose job it is to go to your workplace and fire you with all the love and care that talking to someone as dapper as George Clooney will entail. This is a man whose life is up in the air, travelling with all the luxury and benefits of a frequent member of all hotels and rental car agencies, and someone whose life goal is to reach the enormous, rarely attained target of ten million miles flown. While George Clooney is clearly a more likely to cause you to sigh dreamily than to terminate your employment, the fact is that he—like his character Ryan Bingham—is a dashing single man who lives a happy-go-lucky lifestyle with none of that pesky spouse-and-child business. Still, I don’t know much about George Clooney’s personal life apart from the fact that he seems pretty cheerful, so clearly this lifestyle is not causing him any pain. Therefore I will leave the similarities there. (Clooney himself has said of the comparisons, “We’re the same height and have the same hair.”)

Ryan Bingham is enjoying his fabulous lifestyle until two new women enter his life. One is the young and peppy business-minded Natalie, played by Twilight human Anna Kendrick and her manicured eyebrows, joins the company with a couple of businesslike phrases and a PowerPoint presentation that threatens the jetset life that Bingham holds dear. The other is elegant beauty and comrade in flying Alex, played with extra long legs by Vera Farmiga and out to be the girl who possibly makes Ryan reconsider his bachelorhood.

Just as Bingham’s life becomes as desirable as possible, with Alex and he crisscrossing American Airline* flight paths for a company-funded romp at the country’s many Hilton* hotels, Natalie is given the job of joining Bingham on a few terminations before her new program idea is initiated. Suddenly like a teenage babysitter who’s stuck with his little sister after inviting his cheerleader girlfriend over for some groping on the couch, he’s none too pleased. Along with his relatives, who are trying to drag him kicking and screaming back to family life for his sister’s wedding, he is suddenly surrounded by that horrible baggage known as Relationships.

The moral of the story seems to be something about people who need people being the luckiest people in the world. As someone in a long-term relationship, has a close family and a bunch of ace friends, I’m hardly someone who disagrees with the fact that life’s much easier with people to hug you when you’re sad or take you to the movies and predict the ending (not looking at anyone in particular who incessantly does this and is named Chris.) But when one character bitches Ryan out for not wanting to get married and have children, I can’t deny my hackles were raised.

I don’t want to get married. I also don’t want to be with anyone but Chris and we have planned a life together, with, yes, adorably-named children who will be terribly clever and never cry. I have friends who want to get married but don’t want children. I have friends who don’t want either marriage or children and are happy living carefree, Bingham-style lives. And I’m not talking about nineteen-year-olds who can’t foresee getting tied down—not to belittle nineteen-year-olds who really don’t ever want these things in life—but people who have been like this for a long time. And lately, movies that espouse marriage and children as the only way you can truly ever be happy really grind my gears. Representative of this for me a little was a pretty poor joke setup about the size of Bingham’s sister’s engagement ring, in which the entire cinema I was in laughed patronisingly at how small her diamond was.

Chris and I are at odds as to whether this is the movie’s message. It’s clear to both of us that the movie is saying that life’s better with people to share it with, which is a statement that I hold personally to be true. But I feel that the everyman family is held up as the One True Way in this. I also think the movie ends on a happy note, while Chris thinks it’s a sad ending. I’m no Susie Spoiler, so I won’t tell you more than that, but I should point out that I’m usually the one wailing repeatedly about how the world is doomed for hours after a movie ends.

Regardless of me letting my personal feelings about nuclear families get in the way of the movie, it was a sprightly, tightly-scripted movie with the added dash of having real people who had recently been fired to replay their emotions for the termination scenes, along with short scenes with highly billed but barely there actors Zach Galifianakis and my beloved J K Simmons, who should be in every movie anyway. The relationships were honest, and many of the actors realistic rather than conventionally pretty like movies are but life isn’t. Jason Bateman also has a part as Awkwardly Semi Jerky Boss and Melanie Lynskey, from Heavenly Creatures and more recently the unfathomably popular Three and a Half Men, plays her usual huggable self as Bingham’s soon-to-be-married sister Julie. A tiny exchange between Julie and older, cynical sister Kara conveys so much of family dynamics that I loved the movie for that alone. It’s also quite funny, and the rapport between Ryan and Alex is undeniably appealing, as is Alex’s butt in the one sex scene with far too little male nudity (and, before you get too overexcited and book your tickets online, not much more female nudity either).

It’s an interesting and well-crafted film that tackles the issue of mass downsizing and the heartbreak that accompanies it. It’s also a movie that at least discusses the concept of non-traditional families. I urge you to see it, at least so we can discuss the ending and you can all agree universally with my opinion and I can smugly say that I am right, because it is, alas, a not so regular occurrence.

For those who stay through the credits in the vain hope of something—a medal, perhaps?—this movie does not have bloopers or a different ending hidden at the close of the credits, but there is a song performed by recently “let go” Kevin Renick and written by him for the movie, which is a nice touch.

* I have to mention these because clearly the two companies forked out most of the movie’s budget due to the Join Our Loyalty Program For Fantastic Benefits! product placement in just about every scene.

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