Unreal Movie Review: Up in the Air


Up in the Air is a departure (no pun intended) from Jason Reitman’s two previous excellent works. It lacks the razor sharp wit and style of Thank You for Smoking, and the quirky playfulness of the Diablo Cody-penned Juno, and as it stands it’s his most “normal” work to date.

Unfortunately, that also makes it his most uninteresting.

Don’t get me wrong, Up in the Air is an extremely well made film. The lines are clever and well delivered, it’s cohesive, and flowing and all that good stuff, but the sheer amount of praise this movie is drawing is just plain unwarranted, and if this is an Oscar frontrunner, that really speaks volumes about the type of year in film this is.

George Clooney is playing George Clooney, a suave, smooth talking guy who has never settled down. He flies all around the country for his job which requires him to fire people at companies “who don’t have the balls to do it themselves.” He moonlights as a motivational speaker, who tells people that the only way to be free is be rid of all their possessions and relationships, and his lone wolf attitude has left him without a real home, alienated from his family and with no other real relationships to speak of. But for some reason, he loves it.

In his journey, he picks up an apprentice, Natalie, a young Cornell grad who doesn’t understand what it’s like to watch the pain in someone’s eyes as they lose their job, an experience she now gets to learn firsthand as she jets around the nation with Clooney. He also crosses paths with a fellow jet-setter, Alex, an attractive business woman who is content with scheduling hook-ups with him whenever they happen to land in the same city.


I wouldn’t mind being fired by George Clooney.

As expected, Clooney begins to shift his world view as his young padawan teaches him that just because he’s old, he hasn’t figured out life, and Alex shows him that maybe it’s OK to think about settling down and starting a life with someone.

But it’s bullshit.

I’m sorry, but it’s exceptionally hard to accept the fundamental premise of this movie, and view the entire thing as anything but predictable. If people like Clooney do exist, it’s certainly hard to empathize with them. He’s on the road 75% of the year, he doesn’t have any friends, rarely talks to his family, and doesn’t love a woman for more than one night. And he likes his life. He likes it so much, that he goes around the country giving motivational speeches about how the path to happiness is to cut all emotional ties with everyone in your life. Is that a joke?

We’re past the realm of plausibility with this character, and it’s painfully obvious that the entire movie is set up to “redeem” him and make him see the light. But really, he begins to realize that human contact is actually fulfilling and we’re supposed to stand-up and cheer? It’s like watching a movie about someone who discovers the magic of this mystical food known as “ice cream” for the first time. Reitman does try to flip the boat with a last minute drastic plot twist, and while I will credit it as the only unexpected part in the movie, it’s so drastic that it seems like a gimmick.


Why yes, that is a cardboard cutout of Danny McBride.

And speaking of gimmicks, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this film which revolves around mass firings has been released in this current economy. The parts where Clooney fires people are by far the most well written and acted in the film (there’s a particularly excellent scene with J.K. Simmons that might be the best in any film this year), but once Reitman starts taking the ex-employees aside like it’s The Office and has them share their thoughts about unemployment, the whole thing starts to feel a bit forced.

There are some great performances in the film, the most surprising of which coming from Twilight’s, yes, Twilight’s Anna Kendrick as Natalie. You can say Clooney does a good job playing, what’s his name? Ryan Bingham? But it literally feels like he’s just being himself, or one of his other Danny Ocean/Michael Clayton-type roles for the majority of the film, and amidst all this Oscar talk, I don’t think he in any way deserves a nomination for this role. Would you give Lindsay Lohan an award if she was in a movie playing a washed-up party girl who squandered her once bright future on blow and tequila? No, that’s just how she is, and giving perma-bachelor Clooney an Oscar for playing a suave, but isolated smooth-talker is much the same idea.

I love Jason Reitman, and I believe that he’s about to give us a truly great catalog of films in the upcoming decade, but I must say that so far, I believe Up in the Air to be his weakest effort to date, despite it fundamentally being well put together. But with Nine and The Lovely Bones bombing, Shutter Island pushed back and not a whole lot else to speak of making waves this year, the film looks like a divine miracle by comparison alone. But let’s just try to keep things in perspective.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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  1. It’s funny – I actually like this movie more now after I’ve thought about it a bit. First off, I think it’s better than Juno. Just wanted to put that out there.

    But to me, what this movie is really about is lifestyle choices and how even the most deranged, unique styles of living can be appropriate for certain people. Ryan (Clooney) tried to get back into a normal life, and he got totally burned in doing so. It turns out that for him, his whole move-efficiently-and-don’t-get-attached way of life was optimal. It’s what made him happiest.

    And I have to somewhat disagree with your critique of Clooney – yes, he is suave and charming, but what would you have thought of this movie if it were someone else playing Ryan? For me, Clooney carried this movie at time. Although Anna Kendrick was a nice surprise, too.

    I definitely don’t think this is best picture material, but it is a good movie.

  2. i haven’t seen the movie yet, but i think that had they gone the route of trying to prove the unattached lifestyle as being the better move for clooney, it would be more interesting.

    in general i’m a little sick of movies taking the easy/blatant path that will satisfy the most amount of people possible.

    as an analogy, budweiser is not an impressive beer… and no, blue moon is not either… i don’t feel like i need to carry this thought any farther to make my point because i need to get back to work instead of reading movie reviews of movies i haven’t seen… arghhhh paul

  3. I wouldn’t say I went out of my way to see this movie but when I had the chance (HBO demand) i gave it a shot only because of the hype.
    I think your review is spot on and big twist at the end pretty much summed up the movie for me. Clooney’s character is probably the least interesting single serving character (Fight Club anyone). The only character i had sympathy for was Anna Kendrick who was continuously misled throughout the movie.
    I’ll be going out of my way to not run into this trainwreck again

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