17 April 2010

Up in the Air

Having read this scathing review, I had fully expected to hate this movie. So it was a pleasant surprise when I found myself increasingly amused by the film as it progressed. It wasn't quite so pleasant overall that I ultimately really LIKED the movie, but you know, it made those 2 hours at least somewhat enjoyable.

The review linked to is, in some ways, correct. There is something morally dubious about being expected to root for the guy who fires people during a recession, who's boss is literally gleeful when he cites figures of the declining economy. But that shouldn't be surprising in a movie from the makers of Thank You for Smoking (which I thought was terrible), and anyhow, plenty of great artists have created a main character out of someone who would otherwise seem villainous and made an audience love them. I agree with the reviewer that there's a fair amount of condescension in the movie, but even though I came to the film primed to expect it, I really didn't think it was that heinous. The problem was really that most of the characters were caricatures, and therefore any that you weren't supposed to like that much seemed condescending.

And this is the big problem with the film, overall - the characters. The supreme case being George Clooney's - as with Thank You For Smoking, the movie is centered around a guy who is kind of an asshole. It seems as though the film is meant to be a psychological investigation of this guy, yet there's this distinct sense of uncertainty about him. Is he actually a good guy, beneath it all? Is he a thoughtless jerk? Maybe he's just emotionally immature? The movie can't really seem to make up its mind, and ambulates between options. I think somebody thought this would make it seem complex and nuanced. It doesn't. In fact, there's a decided instability to the film overall - the tone shifts rather puzzlingly throughout, from satire to sentiment and soul-searching, and it's really hard to say whether you're supposed to be touched or ironically amused at the character's expense. Maybe it's just me, but I found the whole thing really uneven.

As for the pluses though - I have kind of despised Vera Farmiga for awhile, especially after her role in The Departed. I thought of her as that melodramatic rabbit eyed woman. But she was phenomenal in this movie - I take back all the mean things I've said about her. Actually, though a tad unrealistic, her character is by fat the best part of the film. Anna Kendrick, who plays the assistant, was also pretty good, though her character was the most egregious example of caricature. But for all that, she managed to infuse it with a little bit of personality. Also, a lot of the dialogue was well done. I wouldn't call this a modern Cary Grant movie, but there were some funny bits and some fairly interesting banter. The conversations were marred somewhat by the characters themselves, but they had potential.

The gripes (ie, the relatively minor things that contributed to my negative feelings about the film):
#1, first and foremost - cliche. There are some many scenes in this movie that feel like they've been ripped off from other films. I don't want to give anything away, but you'll know the Big Lebowski moment when it happens. There's even more cribbed from Intolerable Cruelty, which isn't really surprising, given that George Clooney is essentially playing the same character in both.
#2 (comparatively minor, but still) I thought it was really neat that the movie had a sexy text message exchange. "sexting" as it's come to be known (I am trying to advocate for sexmessing instead) is an increasingly common phenomenon in today's world, and it's high time movies did something with it. Not to mention, I'm all for good erotic scenes (Vera Farmiga wearing nothing but the necktie was pretty awesome). But the thing about pushing the envelope is that you have to actually be willing to push it, and include some genuinely sexy messages. You have these two jet-setting, techy type-a personalities who are obviously freaks in the sack - and then you give them these pathetically tame texts? Weeeeeeaaaaak.
#3 (again, minor) These people spend hours and hours on planes, and yet they never crack open a fucking book? Gah!
#4 Is it just me, or does it seem like there are a lot of scenes where something is covering up part of the camera lens? At first I thought it was a mistake, but then I started noticing that there are a lot of shots where there are these odd hulking shapes dominating most of the frame, and the point of interest is kind of squished between them. But the hulking shapes are generally just that - shapes - like on the airplane, it's a big blob of a seat, or something. I don't know, a lot of the movie was visually quite appealing, but that sort of annoyed me.

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