Oscar Spotlight: Up in the Air

Despite all the hype, Up In The Air ended up underwhelming me.

Jason Reitman’s most recent film, Up In the Air, focuses on the life of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), whose job is to fly around the country to fire people while briefly nursing their emotions. Though the premise is relevant to our time, audiences are unlikely to care. Previews gave the impression that the film would center on Bingham’s relationship with his apprentice, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), but this subplot is merely an afterthought. Bingham’s employer takes Natalie aboard to implement a system that uses video chat to fire people to avoid the expense of long-distance travel. While it may be important to consider the issue of computers replacing human contact, in context this discussion only adds to the film’s cold and sterile outlook on contemporary business.

Because of his lack of emotion and reliability, Ryan Bingham comes across as an incomplete character. He finds comfort in airports and sterile hotel rooms because his career requires him to travel constantly, making impersonal areas his idea of home. His personal ambition is to rack up enough mileage points to become an honorary member of a flight club—by racking up 10 million travel miles. Brief glimpses into his humanity make him endearing, but not enough for the viewer to actually care about him. Natalie’s character is equally uninteresting, and just as sterile as Ryan’s despite brief fits of emotion.

Up In The Air is yet another example of a film based on a novel that just doesn’t quite translate into cinema. I was bored during several sequences and found myself squirming in my seat until they were over. Not only is the premise depressing, it only proceeds to become increasingly dry, hopeless, and entirely predictable. Bingham does have some moments of compassionate discourse with a woman named Alex Gora (Vera Farmiga), a comparable character. These conversations momentarily allow us a glimpse of emotional substance, but not enough to make up for the rest of the movie. Bingham and Gora are essentially the same person, taking pride in their mileage accounts and frequent customer cards. For a while, Bingham’s life looks hopeful with this woman, and he realizes that a human connection might actually be necessary for his own happiness. The movie perpetually asks the question, “What do we need to be happy?”

In the end, there was no coherent ending to answer this question, and its complete disregard for character development. All of the characters are one-dimensional, and the screenwriter’s half-hearted effort to show that they are actually deep comes off as absurd. There is no aesthetic value to the film, and the apparent message is that the corporate, capitalist world is gray and dim. So this movie did allow me think about my future and how I will manage to find a suitable career in a time when jobs are scarce and job hunt horror stories abound.

I don’t recommend paying for a ticket to Up In The Air, but it is mildly entertaining. Watch it on Netflix or when it comes out on cable.

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