Up in the Air: *** 1/2 (out of 4)
Amongst the most awkward movie experiences of my life was when I saw High Fidelity. I went to the movie with a pair of friends, one of which was an ex-girlfriend, bearing a Transformer I had just purchased across the street at Meijer. The movie was in large part about breakups, seeing those ex-significant-others, and putting away childish things. I had clearly seen the movie in the most inadvertently appropriate manner possible; and years later, I still feel both awkward and wistful as I think about it.
Up in the Air is in large part about the loneliness of a crowd. I saw it alone, in a fairly packed theatre, surrounded by others that choose to go to movies on a Sunday night. And as I left the movie, I felt that I had to take a walk around the neighborhood to contemplate the situation. And I wonder if I'm going to be thinking seriously about this otherwise-innocuous evening in nine years.
From the trailers, I had originally pegged the movie as a romantic comedy. I suppose that it did, in some ways, fit that bill; but it was not (as I feared) about the relationship between George Clooney and his 23-year old assistant, but instead about the relationship between Clooney and his job. The main hook of the movie is this job: Clooney (Ryan) is a travelling consultant who fires people for a living. This, of course, resonates well with the modern economy (which is why it's doing well at the box office); but more interestingly, this makes it a bit of a period piece, as well as movie about a specific setting, that being (for the most part) the Midwestern and Plains States. And while I'm not sure that just the existence of Omaha was meant to make us laugh, I wasn't (quite) the only one in the theatre to do so.
But what we really get is a character piece. Clooney has chosen to live his life on the road; we spend the movie seeing both what this offers him, and what he has to give up in order to maintain that life. He has also chosen a role in life that many would consider, at its heart, evil; and of course we see what this costs him. We see him respond to changes in his life (outsourcing comes for all employees), and indeed to try to change his life as well. And we see him come back to the beginning, slightly changed. The plot was, in many ways, incidental, at least for Clooney.
Interestingly, the movie felt authentic to me. The firings were, indeed, brutal, without being over-the-top or evil. The new young worker - not an assistant at all, I might add, another place that I was misled by the trailer - seemed both stereotypical and a lot like several brilliant-but-unlucky women I've known in my life. Speaking from someone right in the middle of the generational gap presented, the arguments on both sides were spot-on. The wedding and its trappings were properly excruciating for me, because of the sheer awkwardness of the situation for the family. And the airport scenes always felt like airport scenes, in a way that invoked both just a touch of pity for having to be in the airport, and jealousy for getting all of the perks that there were to be had.
And you know what? I liked the actual romance of the movie too. It was sweet and modern and doomed and cute, as well as, somehow, kindof natural. I may not have liked where it ended (not an attack on Chicago, mind), but I... respected it. Clooney got his comeuppance in a perfectly natural, perfectly unfair way - just like all of the people that he had fired throughout the movie. It was just... how things had to be.
It's a strong movie, very well done. I liked the direction, the script, the acting, and the settings. And I think that I'd have enjoyed it just that little bit less if the theatre had been empty, or if I had had somebody with me to hold hands with.