Since taking some screenwriting classes, our standards for movies have risen, slowly but surely. We pick at plot holes more, we attack dialogue, we scorn useless characters and sometimes entire movies (“Benjamin Button”). Yes, movies have been somewhat ruined, as our teacher warned us, but on the other hand, when we find a movie that really shines, the reward is that much greater.
“Up In The Air” is one of those rewards. It succeeds in a variety of areas: snappy dialogue, great acting, a great premise and imagery, good direction, and a story that makes you think for a while after you leave the theater.
It’s suited to our modern times. George Clooney plays a contract firer, a person hired to travel around the country and announce layoffs to people for companies that don’t want to make the announcement themselves. He has seen all kinds of reaction from the people he’s laying off, and he knows how to deal with it all. He loves to travel, and he loves the life he’s living.
Enter Anna Kendrick, playing a young business school grad who’s come to Omaha to change the company. She thinks the company can cut costs by firing people over webcam–which would mean Clooney would no longer be required, or permitted, to travel.
Also enter Vera Farmiga, a fellow traveler with whom Clooney shares a passionate night. They have an amusing moment of trying to synch up their travel schedules so they can meet again, and she seems the perfect companion for him.
Between these two women, Clooney’s world is in for some drastic changes, some of which he’ll handle better than others. But the movie is subversive: Anna has a steady boyfriend and expounds on the joys of stable relationships, and Clooney is required at one point to attend his sister’s wedding, leading one to think that this is going to be just another parable about the benefits of a family and how lonely the single life is. And then it turns it all on its head.
What this movie is about, as Clooney says eloquently in a speech to J.K. Simmons, is opportunity. Choices. Not limiting yourself to one thing, whether that thing be family, a job, or a way of life that keeps you on the road. In its own way, his addiction to travel is as confining as his sister’s complete inability to travel. And the movie is artfully done, with subtle touches and great performances from Clooney, Kendrick, and Farmiga, not to mention Simmons, Jason Bateman, and a host of other small parts.
The dialogue snaps and crackles, as good as the dialogue Clooney delivered with such panache in “Ocean’s 11.” Toward the later part of the movie, it becomes less amusing and more serious, but it never drags.
Along with “Up,” coincidentally, this is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. It’s not getting much attention–perhaps Clooney, in his third movie in as many months, is overexposed–but it deserves an Oscar nom.