Monday, 18 January 2010

Monday Night Film Club - Up in the Air

It's always interesting how many of the people on my friends Caroline and Sharon's mailing list a given film will draw. Typically the number hovers around four or five and on occasion (Seven Pounds) has dipped as low as two and climbed as high as eleven (Slumdog Millionaire). Actually, in point of fact, the record is thirteen for Juno, but that was before my time; however, it bears mention since director Jason Reitman is also responsible for Up in the Air. Add to which the fact that it stars George Clooney and it is unsurprising we numbered ten.

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The premise is simple, George Clooney criss-crosses the country, resulting in a beautiful opening sequence of intercut aerial images of America that is arguably the highlight of the film, as a man who is called in to fire people so that bosses don't have to deliver the bad news. Ryan's sole ambition seems to be to get to ten million frequent flier miles, as only six men before him have done. In the process he has cut off friends and family and lives out of one small and expertly packed suitcase. This is highlighted by his motivational speaking sideline where, using the analogy of a rucksack, he explains how weighed down we are. Things are shaken up by the Natalie (Anna Kendrick) who thinks to save money by firing people by video chat. She is promptly tethered to him to learn the trade. Refreshingly, the romantic subplot one might expect to materialise between them never does. That instead comes from fellow frequent flier Alex (Vera Farmiga), and the pair hit it off from the very start, as they attempt to outdo each other with their loyalty cards. Ryan's pride at his black American Airlines card is particularly fine, as he explains it's graphite not carbon fibre (I'm assuming that the producers realise those are the same thing).

It's not quite a comedy though. That's not to say there aren't plenty of amusing moments, but they're mainly more chuckles than laugh out loud funny. Ryan's smugness at cutting queues due to his status is nicely done, and then beautifully followed by his comeuppance when, at the small wedding hotel, he isn't a member of their obscure scheme and must himself queue. Then there is the sublime irony of Natalie's boyfriend dumping her by text message.

Some of the emotional aspects seem contrived, especially when his sister's fiance gets cold feet and Ryan is inexplicably the only person available to talk him round, which he then does with remarkably little difficulty. Much more poignant is the gnomes subplot, a nice reference to Amelie, where the happy couple ask to have their cardboard cutout photographed in exotic locations. He picks Lambert International, St Louis, from where the wright brother and Charles Lindberg flew, he also dashes across the country to get a prized Las Vegas shot. Yet his sister barely acknowledges the pictures. The budding relationship between Ryan and Alex is much more satisfying for most of the film, as he starts to want a different kind of life, and the two actors have excellent chemistry on screen, though it is spoilt by its rather predictable conclusion. Indeed, the final few minutes wrap things up rather too neatly and quickly.

All the leads turn in solid performances, and there are some nice cameos to be spotted among the workers to be fired, such as J K Simmons. It's a diverting and enjoyable film, if one that leaves you somewhat unsatisfied and feeling no pressing need to see it again.

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