Up In The Air

Most people hate flying, the idea of being trapped in a flying phallic-shaped tube with recirculated air for several hours isn’t something that gets many excited. Unless of course you’re Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) who tries to spend as little time at home as possible.

Believing and even projecting his philosophy his having no “baggage” like family, friends or a home to anyone who’ll listen is perhaps the embodiment of that. Bingham is a corporate assassin, flying from city to city firing staff for those who can’t do it themselves however he tries to see himself as helping those at their weakest moment make the transition into unemployment; with the new downturn, Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman), Bingham’s unctuous employer suggest grounding him permanently in favour of using computers to increase efficiency.

Reitman, the director of Juno and Thank You For Smoking is clearly a fan of using simplicity as his narrative device, often employing montages of Bingham packing his suitcase with a zeal and efficiency that both he and the character seem to revel in but ultimately tell us little. These visual devices tell us much about Bingham’s professional life but little about him, something Reitman’s phrasing and writing conflicts with at every turn. This wouldn’t be an issue except for the dialogue often being clunky and very much like a self help book in need of teaching the characters lessons and one dimensional in nature. Such lessons are further at odds with the acting, inorganic and forced when the twists and turns come about.
Even the irony of a man who dismisses staff at the behest of others but complains about the mechanisation of the same is never looked at to a material degree, a sentiment that goes to the heart of the other themes as well.

Clooney iterates at length that he is never alone when he’s travelling and that the people he meets really know him but the very idea is childlike. For a man who revels in being alone, he craves human interaction, evident even in his choice of work where he sees himself as more of a counselor than vulture. One of the few scenes involving him at home illustrates his lust for company, even the acknowledgement he requests upon check-in highlights this constant need for validation. As a result, he has become obsessed with achieving air miles and status within this world he has created, something that to him will give his life meaning. Despite all the charm and vulnerability he injects into the story, it’s impossible to ignore how he is lying to himself, making everything that happens rather formulaic and predictable; he may argue that we all die alone and even believe it but tries his best to leave his mark in whatever way he can.

Alex (Vera Farmiga) and Natalie (Anna Kendrick) attempt to best Bingham, something Farmiga often achieves but cannot maintain due to poor character development; she fleets in and out of the story, bringing out the warmth and vulnerability in the central character before an artificially inserted twist (which doesn’t entirely fit with her characterisation) removes her entirely. Kendrick on the other hand, is like a juvenile pandora’s box, incapable of feeling emotion without immediately expressing it, often for comedic effect. However she does not have the timing or flare required for comedy, meaning it is often awkward and calculated in appearance. The effect they have on Bingham is their greatest contribution and the best result of the piece overall but cannot undo the structural issues that’s palpable in every scene.

Obsessed with status and the look and feel, Up In The Air is an interesting observation of the characters it highlights, but falls far short of actually examining them to any significant degree. Superficial to the last, it’s a shame that we had to watch from afar rather than from the cast’s point of view.

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