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Up in the Air

Up in the Air is the Benjamin Button of this Oscar season. That is, it sucks – hard – but for some reason everyone loves it and it will win all sorts of awards. Basically, it’s a buddy movie, which prejudiced me against it from the get-go. I hate buddy movies almost as much as I hate wearing pants.

More than that, though, Up in the Air is nefarious. Ironically, it tries to do exactly what its main character does for a living, which is distract us from the fact that we’re all getting fired. Don’t worry about losing your job: The guy who canned you is miserable, and anyway you’ll get to spend more time with your family and indulge your love of French cooking, and isn’t that what life’s really about? Hmmm? Now run along.

It’s disappointing because this would have been a perfect moment for a poignant movie about the Great Recession. People are hurting. People believed in America, they believed that if they worked hard, saved for retirement, and paid their taxes, they would be rewarded. They were wrong. Now they have been fucked, and the people who fucked them continue to have all the money. You can almost taste the outrage. What a great time to make a movie, right?

But Up in the Air is not that movie. It almost entirely punts, even ending with a 23-year-old getting a job, as if that were happening somewhere in America. The fact that so many Americans love Up in the Air says a lot about the lack of respect we have for ourselves. Frankly, I doubt the French would ever put up with a movie like this.

2 Comments

  1. Omar Uddin wrote:

    I loved this movie. I never once thought it glossed over the grim reality of the times. I don’t think the examination of Clooney’s life philosophy and isolation detracted in any way from the grim reality of the current employment situation. In fact, I thought the film did a great job showing this man and the way he chooses to live and work, all within the context (and against the backdrop) of the awful landscape of this country.

    “Don’t worry about losing your job: The guy who canned you is miserable, and anyway you’ll get to spend more time with your family and indulge your love of French cooking, and isn’t that what life’s really about? Hmmm? Now run along.”

    I totally disagree with you if you think the above represents the underlying sentiment of the movie. Even when he is firing that guy and encouraging him to pursue his lifelong dream of French cooking, you can see on Clooney’s face that he knows what he is saying is bullshit, and the audience knows it too. He’s aware that there is nothing even remotely sincere about what he is offering the guy; its as fake and useless as the unemployment brochures he offers the people he lays off. I thought there was a real poignancy in having real life recently unemployed people get in front of the camera and talk about their current situation and how its affected their lives. It was tastefully done without ever once seeming overly mawkish or manipulative. How can the movie gloss over the current situation in this country when everything Clooney does–his actions, his philosophy, his career–plays out against the backdrop of these people’s lives? I feel a good chunk of this film deals with the contrast between his life, his job, his attitudes, and the consequences it all has for real people.

    This sounds like a cheesy plug, but I feel that more than any other movie, I thought Up In The Air did a great job of capturing where we are in this very moment in this country: The superficiality of the Clooney character and the empty goals he strives for, searching for meaning in your life (as examined in the contrast between the isolation of his life and the more full lives of those around him), and of course, the despair and shittiness that lies in the smoldering wreckage of the American dream. I don’t think the movie lets the audience off the hook at all–and despite the 23 year old getting a job, I don’t think the end could be described even remotely as hopeful: people are still losing their jobs, struggling with their lives, and our protagonist continues to be as isolated as ever.

    Does the movie tend to oversimplify a lot of these issues? You bet. And there may be reasons not to like it. But I really don’t think it overlooks the awful landscape that we all live in, nor does it try to gloss over it.

    I hope you liked it more than Avatar. And I am with you on wearing pants. God, I hate wearing pants.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 14:17 | Permalink
  2. pjk wrote:

    I definitely liked it better than Avatar, and the writing was excellent. The premise of the central conflict is a little silly: The hiring of consultants to fire people must be a hugely expensive luxury indulged in by corporations who can afford it… and those corporations are PAYING SPECIFICALLY FOR the face-to-face attention… replacing it with a video conference would be like replacing the yacht with a DVD of the ocean, and still charging the same. But that’s just nit picking.

    The real problem I had with the ending was the montage of the fired people all talking about how at least they had time for their families now, etc. It DID end on that hopeful note. Maybe that’s just what Hollywood does, I don’t know. I have a general criticism of all media today that we live at a time when vein-bulging outrage is more appropriate than at any other moment in recent memory, yet everyone’s still pulling punches, mickey-mousing around the point, now let’s not be too hasty, on the other hand, etc. Obviously didactic art is often unpleasant, but there are moments that are ripe for an Uncle Tom’s Cabin or a Woody Guthrie, and I think we’re in one.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 15:52 | Permalink

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