Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Up In the Air

Up in the Air was finally released last week. Had I seen the film without any awareness of how it had been received, I'd have enjoyed it far more than I did. As it happened, I had read a few rapturous reviews in the American press, and found the product unworthy of the hype.
It's a film about a man (George Clooney) who fires people for a living. Clooney's firm is hired to do the dirty work when firms decide to downsize, and he flies from town to town handing out pink slips. Well, folders with severance packages to be precise.
The film is like a flight that's very comfortable, but during which you can't avoid breathing recycled airplane air and eating airline food. There's nothing original or deep or exceptional about the movie. It doesn't even bother to dig into the issue of unemployment, except for the trauma felt by those fired.
Clooney's character likes a no-commitments lifestyle and preaches about it at conferences, but he isn't given strong enough lines to make the option seem appealing. Like Jabeen mentioned after the film, "If somebody asked me to imagine burning all my belongings and getting rid of all my close friends and family members, and then asked me if I felt liberated, I'd say, "No, of course not, why would something like that feel liberating?"
Guys, for the most part, imagine themselves as slightly more like sharks and slightly less like swans than women do, but even for guys, the Clooney option hardly sounds inspiring.
In the end, of course, George falls in love and does an about-turn in attitude. His sister is getting married, but the groom develops cold feet. Clooney's asked to convince him that marriage is a great option. Turning his own argument around, he asks the groom-to-be to think about the happiest moments in his life. Then he asks if he was alone during any of those moments. The man shakes his head, convinced of the importance of companionship.
Well, I can say in honesty that I have been alone during some of the happiest moments of my life.
So I don't buy either of Clooney's motivational speeches, just as I don't buy the idea that Up In The Air was one of 2009's best films.


seana graham said...

I thought for a moment you were going to say that when the groom got cold feet, George Clooney stepped up and married his sister.

Must have been reading too much about ancient Egypt around these parts lately.

adrian mckinty said...


I am not a big fan of Herbert Marcuse but I wish the old dog had been around to see Up in the Air. To me this film felt like capitalist propaganda of the worst kind. I felt the film makers made a lot of cowardly choices. Namely:

1. The boss of the evil "we fire people humanely" company is the cuddly Jason Bateman who looks as if he wouldn't harm a grasshopper.
2. The woman who kills herself does so comfortably off screen so we get shocked but not too much.
3. The film doesnt end with Clooney faced with the emptiness of his life but rather staring at the departures board full of the possibilites ahead, and a little bit wiser by everything thats happened.
4. We are supposed to believe that Clooney is actually doing people a favour by firing them. He convinces some guy who gave up on his dream of being a restauranteur that this is the best day of his life. (He didn't tell him that 60 percent of all restaurants fail in the first year).

In general I thought that they took the worst aspect of capitalism, being fired for no reason, and made it seem cuddly and humane.

Girish Shahane said...

Seana, LOL. It took me a while to ascertain the woman was, indeed, Clooney's sister, because she's so much younger than he is. Clooney's part was written for a 35 year old.
Adrian, Reitman's films, Juno included, are all conservative propaganda in a sense. It was a serious limitation that the sackings were implied to be necessary; that go-build--your-dream-restaurant scene was ridiculous.
But I didn't think of Jason Bateman as all that cuddly, partly because of his turn in Juno, where his cuddliness is a mask for a sinister personality. It was as if Reitman wanted us to look at Bateman's character with that film in mind, but maybe I'm over-reading.

seana graham said...

As to the cuddly and humane aspect of Capitalism, that's a bit like what they did to the chain bookstore in "You've Got Mail". All's forgiven because it ends in romantic love.

You might not be overreading, Girish, but I think I can guarantee that the American viewing public will be underreading, if anything.

Anonymous said...

I felt disappointed after watching this film, considering that this was nominated for a lot of awards. But the sad thing is, if this was supposedly one of the best films of 2009, I can imagine what the rest must have been....Srikanth

Banno said...

Came away disappointed, too. The film was confused and totally flat.

adrian mckinty said...


And very cheekily the music playing over the opening titles was Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land.

Girish Shahane said...

Srikanth, you're right, 2009 probably wasn't a vintage year, though I haven't seen many of the films nominated for best picture, notably the Hurt Locker.
Banno, flat is right, which is odd for a film about flying high.
Adrian, snazzy title sequence, which made what followed seem blander.
Thought about Clooney in Michael Clayton, a film that pulls few punches. I saw the film a second time recently, I liked it even more than my first viewing. And Clooney was really, really good.

seana graham said...

Michael Clayton does make a case for Clooney's acting abilities when all other hope has failed. He is good in secondary roles and bit parts too, which is not true of all A list actors.

adrian mckinty said...


I liked Michael Clayton too. My only small gripe was his reason for stopping to look at the horses. It would have been neat if it had been some drawing of his sons or some remark his son make about horses in his world. So his son effectively saves him. That would have been cool and showed us that the screenplay was really tight.

DS said...

Up In The Air is one of the films nominated for best pic by the Academy? Very soon into the movie I liked her haircut. Then started thinking I would have to lose 10 kgs to carry something that short off. Then started obsessing how to lose 10kgs cos I really wanted that haircut. By then, neither movie or(ageing wonderfully) George could pull me up for air.

Really, they chose a parallel story to a movie about lonely lives and relationships in the modern world that was such a lame one. How does one justify firing someone humanely? There's no such thing. And the most ridiculous lines; those backpack lectures! You start cringeing when he comes on for the third time. And the relationships...that 'get married' moment, well that was cop out time by then.

Therefore, haircut. It was a v good haircut. Good swing, good length, good definition, sharp across the profile, had bite.....all that the movie did not have.

Unknown said...

The buzz around this movie is as much due to how it resonates with a lot of Americans during this particular period in time as it is due to Clooney's star power or the quality of the movie. As the whole structure of capital has started crumbling, this movie is almost like a snapshot that captures what America was about the last couple of decades. You can see that if you get past what seems like almost ridiculous sequences at first.

Blackfayth said...

G, I think one of the boys has a copy of Hurt Locker lying somewhere if you're interested.

DS said...

Saw Hurt Locker yday and while it is streets ahead, for me, of both Avatar and Up In The Air, Inglourious Basterds still the best movie(of the ones nominated) that I've seen in the past year.

And GS like you pointed out rightly, Christopher Stoltz's performance as an actor,the best, pity it has to be in the best supporting actor category.

Nimit Kathuria said...

How exatly are his films "capitalistic propaganda"?

Girish Shahane said...

Asim, you're right about the movie being of the moment in a special way for Americans.
Blackfayth, I'll wait for the Hurt Locker to find its way to the theatres, as it hopefully will after the Oscars.
Nimit, Adrian explained his 'capitalistic propaganda' idea in three points. I said 'conservative propaganda', by which I mean coming round at the end of Juno and Up in the Air to a valorisation of ordinary family life after flirting with alternatives that are shown as exciting at first, but then revealed as shallow.

Mohammed Musthafa said...

Hey, after reading all of the comments above...guess I'd be too young to comment. But just thought I'd share something. Did anyone notice the camera work and editing in the movie? Especially the part where Clooney gets ready for a flight and goes to the airport? I thought Jason Reitman did a good job with that.

And about the conservative propoganda and tilt towards capitalism....isnt that actually a bit of 'over-reading'?

Girish Shahane said...

Definitely a well-made movie, Mohammed. And yes, I don't agree with the conservative propaganda bit.