Tuesday, February 16, 2010

BuboBlog Reviews 'Up in the Air'

(I'm trying to catch up on Oscar contenders this month. Thanks to some grandparent-provided babysitting last weekend, we were able to see one Best Picture-nominated film that's still in theaters: "Up in the Air.")

I have to say, director Jason Reitman is on an impressive trajectory: Every one of his films is less overrated than the one before.

"Thank You for Smoking" (2006) was well-received, but it was hard to tell why. The film was just spinning its wheels in the second half, and few of its ideas were especially original or nuanced.

"Juno" (2007) was better, but suffered from a flawed beginning. The first 20 minutes worked so hard to give every character idiosyncratic dialogue that it was impossible to tell one person from the next. Was Juno a precocious teen who uses her wit to cover up her insecurities, or were we witnessing a universe where it's perfectly normal for everyone to say things like, "This is one doodle that can't be undid, homeskillet." (Really this was maybe more an issue with Diablo Cody's script than Reitman.)

Fortunately, "Juno" found its legs and turned into much more than a pop-culture-reference quirkfest. It was a funny, touching story about growing up, growing old and growing apart.

Now comes "Up in the Air," which really shows Reitman's maturity as a director. It has almost no false notes, and while it's not as funny as "Juno," it delivers the same moments of poignancy. This time we're dealing with Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) an extreme-frequent flyer who zooms around the country firing people. His personal goal: becoming the eighth person to gather 10 million miles. Bingham has no roots, no possessions, no family — he doesn't even have his own apartment. The film reaches its emotional climax when Bingham goes to his sister's wedding and realizes that he wants to build some kind of connection (but is it too late?).

"Up in the Air" also serves as a zeitgeist for our uncertain economic times. The film intersperses clips of real laid-off employees among the scripted scenes — something akin to what "When Harry Met Sally" did using interviews with real-life couples. It works well, even if you don't realize that the people are real (I didn't).

It's also hard to dislike a movie with this message: If you're offered a job in San Francisco, take it.

BuboBlog Rating: 3.5 asterisks (out of 4)