Don’t get me wrong. I did not dislike Up in the Air, but I also did not consider it to be the glowing gem that critics apparently think it is. This film is another what-is-life-about kind of story that was popularized by American Beauty 10 years ago. However, whereas American Beauty’s exploration of suburban angst and the search for life’s meaning by upper-middle class whites was fresh and interesting in 1999, these themes come off as whiny and tired today.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man who fires people for a living. He flies around the country doing the dirty work that companies would rather pay someone else to do. He spends 322 days of the year in airports, rental cars, and hotels doing his job. He is very good at it and he loves it. He’s never been married, isn’t close to his family, and his ultimate dream is the shallow goal of reaching 10 million frequent flier miles so he could be inducted into some exclusive lifetime frequent flier club. During a layover, he meets a somewhat similar female version of himself, Alex (Vera Farmiga), and they begin an uncommitted sexual relationship. Bingham’s boss (Jason Bateman) announces that he wants to switch the company to a video-chat/Skype based firing system to save on travel expenses. He hires a young Ivy League-graduate, Natalie (Anna Kendrick) and pairs her up with Ryan so she can learn the ropes of how to fire people. Ryan is not too thrilled to have to bring along an unexperienced kid along his travels, but he makes do. He meets up with Alex on one of his trips and he realizes that their relationship is threatening to become deeper than a merely sexual one and he invites her to be his date at his sister’s upcoming wedding.

Clooney brings the full force of his movie star charm to this role. He reminds me very much of and he has been compared to Cary Grant. No matter what film you see Cary Grant in, he more or less plays the same version of Cary Grant. This is even more true with Clooney. Although he has a winning personality that is difficult to dislike, you know what you’re going to get from him anytime you see a George Clooney film. He has an overpowering presence in most of his films and, consequently, it is difficult at times to know whether the rest of the film is actually good or whether its held together only by Clooney’s appeal.

A lot has been written of Up in the Air’s two actresses: Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga (the name sounds like a vixen in a James Bond movie). Both of these ladies have been nominated for Golden Globes for Best Supporting Actress and I can’t really figure out why. Kendrick plays the young, Ivy Leaguer, a businesslike, slightly naive, ambitious young woman. The character is not supposed to contain a lot of depth to her character, which is fine, but aside from her sarcastic, witty remarks, she doesn’t bring anything new or refreshing to the table. As for Farmiga, I enjoyed her performance more, but again, it fails to offer anything that stands out.

Up in the Air is a deceptive film. I was really engrossed in it for the first half of the film until I realized by the end that Clooney’s charm was basically used to cover up the conventionality of the story. The film is full of clever one-liners (some really great ones in fact), good performances, and a wistful indie soundtrack. I don’t think anyone is going to hate this film, including myself, and that is what most annoys me. Its one of those fluffy, light, frothy, inoffensive romantic comedies that gets over-recognized during awards season (i.e. Shakespeare in Love) and wins every award (the National Board of Review has already honored it with the year’s Best Picture award).

The early scenes of the film are actually wonderful. They are smartly written and full of snappy, witty dialogue that reminded me of the old screwball classics. Where the film fucks up is when it begins to get serious and introspective and the characters leave their comfortable environs for the wedding in the Wisconsin countryside. Up to this point, the film does a good job in showing us the drab sterility of corporate culture and the materialistic shit people overvalue. However, this message works because the director doesn’t ram it down our throats. In the second half of the film, these themes are joined with other ones about family and alienation and its offered up in such an obvious manner that at that point I felt removed from the film.

Up in the Air is a film that everyone will like and like Crash, Shakespeare in Love, A Beautiful Mind, and other forgettable award winners, it will leave our collective consciousness after a short while. This is by no means a bad film, but its attempts to be simultaneously deep and light stretches the film too thin and as a result, it becomes a film about nothing.

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