Although Ivan Reitman is responsible for a body of work throughout the 80s and 90s that contains such classics as Ghostbusters, Kindergarten Cop and Junior, his son Jason has earned his Stripes with an astonishing strike-rate – Thank You For Smoking followed by Juno have made him one of the hottest up-and-coming talents in Hollywood. Continuing his early success, Up in the Air has him nominated as Best Director in the Academy Awards, along with five other major categories including Best Film, Actor, Supporting Actress (twice) and Screenplay. Coupled with the Oscar nominations for Film and Director garnered by Juno – and it’s near universal critical acclaim (including being the winner of best film of 2008 here at hoopla.nu) – and it is clear that if there is a new Jason Reitman film at the cinema, that film is a must-see.
In that context, Up in the Air is marginally disappointing. Perhaps it is unreasonable to judge the film negatively due to the hype surrounding it, but while it is a competent and entertaining piece, it doesn’t quite have the chops to match Reitman’s previous outing.
George Clooney is Ryan Bingham, a ‘career transition counsellor’ who travels all over the US firing people on behalf of companies and bosses who can’t face the task alone. His workrate is second to none, and he prides himself on his approach to self-sufficiency and independence. When his company employs a young upstart fresh out of business school (Anna Kendrick as Natalie), she convinces their boss to ‘ground’ all the travelling counsellors in favour of firing by webcam.
There is a certain appeal to the lifestyle Bingham has chosen, although much of the charm of the character can obviously be attributed to Clooney, an actor who is charming at his worst. It is in the latter stages of his journey, however, that Bingham truly becomes interesting, with his relationships with both Natalie and fellow frequent-flyer Alex (Vera Farmiga) requiring him to step outside himself and examine his life. Clooney excels in these sequences.
Perhaps more impressive than another strong lead performance by George Clooney are the two supporting actresses – both Farmiga and Kendrick have been nominated in this category at the Academy Awards, and it is easy to see why. It is probably Kendrick, however, who most shines in a difficult role: initially she appears most like a child playing ‘grown-ups’, before growing throughout the film into a more worldly and less idealistic young woman. Kendrick is particularly good in the mid-section of the film during which Natalie is taught the finer points of ‘transitioning’ former employees into their new lives, demonstrating her character’s vulnerability with dexterity.
Support is provided by an excellent ensemble, including Melanie Lynskey as Bingham’s sister, and Reitman favourites J.K. Simmons and Sam Elliott in highly enjoyable cameos. Footage of interviews with real people who have recently lost their jobs contributes to a sense that Reitman is expecting us to think seriously about his film, while the song playing over the end credits (“Up in the Air” by Kevin Renick) also suggests an authenticity a Hollywood production might not usually achieve.
Although it isn’t the best of the films available at present due to the usual February/March glut of quality films being released in the hope of capitalising on Oscar buzz, one could do worse than to sit down to Reitman’s languid exploration of community and independence.Rating: