Up In The Air
There’s George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick and even the brief appearances from Jason Bateman. All seem to share the glory of the film without anyone stealing the limelight as the single success story, and that’s a feeling that holds true throughout the film.
Another moment from Kendrick is when she’s firing someone and dealing with the employee’s reactions. Clooney sits beside her but neither he, the script, nor the camera overly dwell on him and allow her to play the scene out.
These feelings in the film really do help build it up to be a sum of it’s parts, rather than appearing as a Clooney leading film, or a Reitman script or directing vehicle, etc., it’s all about the ensemble, the sum of it’s parts, and like a stage play that makes the story even better.
Up in the Air is a rather complex story that doesn’t have one simple tag-line to describe it, although perhaps the most popular summary is that it is about fulfilment and how the material things in life that people strive for aren’t really the source of true fulfilment, and when we actually get them…
Let’s leave that and look at the bare plot. George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a successful company man. He’s part of a team of people who hire their services out to other companies who are in the process of downsizing, companies who cannot, or will not, deal with making their employees redundant.
He’s very good at his job, perhaps the best, and the only thing he strives for in his life is to reach the magical number of ten million air miles, a number gained only by six other travellers with the airline ever in its history, and a figure that would give him untold privileges.
He lives out of a suitcase and has made an art, and a speaking circuit, out of doing away with all his other baggage, even a house.
However his worst fears are becoming reality, and the possibility of being grounded for good requires some drastic action. His boss, played by Jason Bateman, has hired a young woman called Natalie Keener, played by Anna Kendrick, who has ideas of modernising their business and firing people through video conferencing, reducing travelling costs drastically.
So Bingham offers to take her on the road and teach her the ropes of the business, and at the same time try and show her why he, and people like him in his company, really need to keep travelling and doing the firing face to face.
On the journey the unlikely pair connect, and Bingham finds something unexpected in his life, a woman, played by Vera Farminga, who is a similar version of himself, continually travelling across the country on business trips. They meet up during lay-overs (conveniently titled!) and his fondness for her grows and begins to affect his own, well established life.
There’s a lot more to the film than that rather lengthy plot, so don’t be concerned that I might have given away too much, I think I’ve given you the bare skeleton of the story, just enough before the really good stuff begins.
It’s an excellent film which has a wonderful idea and script. Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner have done a superb job of adapting the novel by Walter Kim for this film version, they’ve created some wonderful characters, with some excellent and very real dialogue which brings humour and pathos in equal amounts. While some might call this a comedy, it’s a dramatic film that has a lot to say to us and our modern lives.
The story and characters never go too far. There’s plenty of scope for it, and it’s clear that if Anna Kendrick’s character had strayed slightly further into her flaky, high pitched character, the realistic and touching performance would have become annoying and unsympathetic, and that feeling pops up a number of times in the film, never going too far to lose the reality, but going just enough to give a feeling of not quite here, and at times a slight hint of surrealism.
What I particularly love about the story is the fact that it has a number of surprises. Not big twists and turns, but there are a number of places where I was expecting the story to take a natural turn, natural to Hollywood and what is expected in films that carry Clooney and similar actors in the lead. However none of them turned out right, not a single one.
I won’t reveal any of them, for I’ve just tried thinking if I could describe the main one without giving anything away, and I really don’t think I want to never mind if I could do it. Suffice to say the story is refreshingly different from start to finish. It’s almost as if there’s been a concerted effort to make the story play out differently turn to turn, even if it is just enough to give the audience a feeling of seeing something partially new – let’s face it, that’s all that’s needed to stand out from the pack these days.
The story is poignant and sad, delivering a clever, thoughtful story which is also somewhat liberating, but above all entertaining. It was superbly well conceived and written, and I have to really emphasise that point, to all three writers, I heap huge praise.
My wife said something to me that stuck in my head afterwards, and that was that the film floated along effortlessly, almost like being on a flight yourself, and the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it was true, and I don’t mean that in a light-headed, empty way, not at all. The film has some strong moments that will move and touch you, no it’s that the characters and scenes flow from one to another, there’s nothing out of place, and it tells it without jarring or turbulence.
Reitman manages to place a distinct style on the film without intruding on the story, something that for such a heavily based character script as this must be a difficult thing not to interfere with. There’s a firm stamp placed on the beginning, introducing us to the character and his ways, with sharp edits taking us through the routine from getting up, through the airport and flight, and to the final destination. This, together with the title sequence that shows some spectacular American countryside and city-scapes, deliver a powerful beginning to the film, something that he manages to back off from very easily to allow the rest of the film through.
It is though the actors who deliver the final touches to the film, and they do it wonderfully. Clooney, Kendrick, Farminga and Bateman are all superb, and I touch on that word once again, effortless.
Clooney and Farminga deliver very natural performances that have a lot of chemistry and perfect timing throughout, Clooney is especially good and it’s even more about the moments when he doesn’t deliver than when he does.
There are touches of his old ER style here, the head turns, the facial movements where he says nothing and just looks, but here he’s very real, very personable and very human. Together with Ferminga you really do get a sense that he’s developing and growing, as well as slipping and finding something new about himself.
Vera Ferminga is excellent, and it’s not just that I have a soft spot for the actress, it’s that she manages to stand toe to toe with Clooney and proves that she’s an excellent match for him. I’m always utterly convinced by her emotional performances and drawn to her with little delivered.
I’ve already said it, but Jason Bateman has a surprising good role too, and his dry, sarcastic delivery is keeping in standing with the quality of performances in the film, even if he has little screen time in comparison, he manages to leave us with a memorable performance.
I can’t forget Anna Kendrick either, she has some great moments as well as some of the strongest lines of the film. Her scenes with Farminga where she makes references to the age difference between them are both hilarious and painfully cutting, and her delivery is sharp and unaware. Hilarious.
However her strongest moment, and one of the most powerfully quiet moments of the film, is when she is performing the first redundancy via video conference, testing the system with the employee in the next room. Clooney steps back and let’s her deliver the scene and focuses on the employee’s reaction.
During this scene all the noise slowly edged out of the cinema, the food munching, the rustling, the coughing, everything stopped and you could feel the tension rise. People were captivated and the surprising thing is that there was no one commanding the scene, it was all about the dynamics and the relationships, not a single actor’s performance. It highlighted that the film is all about the ensemble, the whole rather than the individual.
One more thing I really have to mention was the appearance by a famous rapper during the evening conference party scene, it was a moment that raised a huge smile and had me bouncing slightly in my seat and mouthing the words, I think I was the only one too.
An excellent film that is all about the whole, not the individual, and that’s apparent from the excellent writing through to the superb performances and excellent dynamics in the relationships. George Clooney, Vera Farminga and Anna Kendrick are fabulous and Jason Reitman has created a wonderful film that delivers a surprising amount of reality and enjoyment.
It’s Clooney and Kendrick though that really draw you into the story and the excellent story will let you leave with different feelings and understandings of the message of the film, and stay with you for some time afterwards.