Monday, January 04, 2010

SuckerFlix: Up in the Air

A friend and I caught Up in the Air on Saturday afternoon. I went in with mid-level expectations. I really enjoyed Jason Reitman's Juno, but was lukewarm about Thank You For Smoking. Still, the cast seemed strong and Reitman's pedigree was mostly good.

The movie tells the story of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man who travels the US doing the dirty work for major corporations -- mainly, firing people. Ryan has become so good -- and fond -- of his life in the air that he's disconnected from any semblance of a life back home in Nebraska, or with his family. Then he meets Alex (Vera Farmiga), a sexy corporate traveler who has almost as many hotel and airline discount cards as he does. After hooking up, the pair swap schedules and continue to meet on their respective travels when said calendars overlap geographically.

Clouds start to appear in the form of Anna Kendrick, who plays a youthful, recent college grad at Bingham's company. She's come up with a firing method that doesn't require personal contact -- just a T1 connection and two monitors. Bingham, of course, want nothing to do with settling down or this new method. He takes Kendrick on the road with him to teach her "the ropes."

Up in the Air was a very pleasant surprise. It avoided trite plot twists and overt melodrama and instead focused on its three main characters and how they play off each other. There were a few moments I preemptively cringed while watching, half-expecting Reitman to take the tried and true route and wrap the plot up in a nice bow. Instead, we get a realistic and modern look at life in the 21st century. Where relationships sustain themselves on Blackberry Messenger conversations and getting fired via video conference is a potential reality.

Clooney and Farmiga are kinetic together, less so in the few scenes they have apart. Farmiga is so charming in her role that you end up surprised near the end of the film when you realize you've fallen for her, too, which then plays right into the film's third and best act.

Kendrick comes off as a bit of a nuisance at first, both as a character and as an actress. But after a while she smartly steps back and lets the leads do the heavy lifting, making her performance passable and solid if not spectacular.

Overall, Up in the Air was a great way to kick off the cinematic year. Though painfully depressing at times on a number of levels -- romantically, socially, etc. -- it only strays into cliche and predictable territory a handful of times, which is fairly forgivable. Worth a look.

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