Yesterday afternoon, I watched the Atlanta Falcons come oh-so-close to interrupting the New Orleans Saints perfect season. 26 to 23 close. In the late afternoon, I went to see Jason Reitman’s new film, Up in the Air (2009). Based on Walter Kirn’s novel of the same name and starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman, and Anna Kendrick, Reitman’s dramedy directly and unequivocally sets two messages on the table by following Ryan Bingham (Clooney) as he shows Natalie Keener (Kendrick) the art of informing an employee that his or her services will no longer be needed.
This entry is more for people who have already seen the film than for those who have not. If you have not, and are a fan of or at least neutral towards the aforementioned cast members (and wouldn’t mind seeing a shot of Vera Fermiga’s arse-bottom–as we’re encouraged to believe is actually hers and not a double’s), then I do recommend you see this film. Any possible spoilers, major or minor, will be indicated.
1. One can have no conscious intentions or interest in participating in domestic normativity (marrying, reproducing, owning a residence) but can one really grow old completely without need or want for prolonged and emotionally consequential human interaction?
2. Outcomes, results, desires, ambitions, goals, even conditions and limitations–it’s all up in the air as far as what people do and do not want out of existence as they age.
Ryan tells Natalie that people evolve as they get older and what they want changes. Incorporated into how these characters change (or not) is the reassurance, a la motivational speaker, that a solid social network of family and friends is an effective coping mechanism for the lumps of coal and disappointments that life can drop on a person.
I am a fan of Vera Farmiga, which was the primary reason that I saw the film. I liked the film a lot for the most part…until about the final twelve or so minutes. Substantial spoilers ahead! Highlight relevant words at your own discretion: Throughout the majority of the film, Clooney’s character is a self-identified loner and believer in detachment of both worldly and emotional goods. As Alex Goran (Farmiga) notes soon after meeting him, they’re both the kind of people who respond super favorably to elite status–not quite the luxury goods sort, but more of I’m-a-member’s-only-card-carrier. The viewer doesn’t get to know who Ryan Bingham was in the past, if anything had happened to him that persuaded him to be such a good away-on-business employee (there are hints, though, where one can argue that perhaps he had dreams of playing basketball professionally but it just didn’t work out or that he had experienced a traumatic relationship that left him supremely emotionally disconnected yet compassionate when necessary). Nevertheless, Clooney’s performance makes his character’s backstory essentially irrelevant. Even when the viewer finds out that he has two sisters, the younger one is going to get married and when the groom gets cold feet, Bingham successfully talks him into going through with the ceremony. Bingham even brings Alex to the wedding!
I have no criticisms of Bingham’s successful peptalk with the briefly reluctant groom; I don’t think it conflicts with how he had presented himself thus far. On the contrary, it substantiates his efficacy as a communicator. What does, however, give me pause occurs when Bingham finds himself enjoying Alex’s company and liking her more than he had thought logical or possible. So, he gets on a plane and shows up at her doorstep only to learn that she has the cult of domesticity alive and well. A kindred spirit was not so kindred after all–he thought she was someone who just didn’t buy into the normativity of settling down when in fact, she wanted an alternate reality that he was able to provide.
With respect to the film itself, this scene or sequence struck me as somewhat incongruous with the tone of the rest of the film. Although it still conveys an idea consistent with the film’s messages (people can still acquire what conventional society tells them they want or what they themselves had wanted and still be restless and unsatisfied), I would’ve liked the scene to proceed with Bingham arriving at Alex’s doorstep only to learn that he is one of many men with whom she has genuine but ephemeral encounters.
Observations & Miscellania:
1. Product Placement and Branding: Hampton Inn and Suites, American Airlines, Hilton, Evian (a Hilton sign is draped over the bottle but it’s obvious it’s Evian), Homewood Suites, Dasani, A1 steak sauce, Windows operating system, Chicago Bears (Jason Bateman’s character had Bears paraphernalia in his office), Fat Matt’s Rib Shack (Clooney recommends it to Farmiga when she’s in Atlanta for business), and Hartsfield.
2. This film is a motivational speaker and a travel ad in one. Each of the hotels featured in the film are part of the Hilton family. Destinations include Tulsa, Wichita, Las Vegas, St. Louis, Detroit, Miami, Chicago, northern Wisconsin, San Francisco, and Omaha among others.
3. Despite how impressive the chemistry was between Clooney, Kendrick, and Farmiga, I can’t help but think that the film would’ve been just as good with Aaron Eckhart, Ellen Page, and Thandie Newton or Saffron Burrows. Peut-etre.
4. Audience demographics at the 4:40 pm showing at Phipps: 98% Caucasian. Average age: 45. 70% in groups of three or more.
Click here for images from the film.