TIFF ’09: Up In The Air

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upintheari
It won’t please the banana phone crowd, but it acts as Reitman`s successful coming of age – not only as a purveyor of comedy, but as a well-rounded filmmaker.

Up In The Air
Directed by Jason Reitman


Obscure alt-culture references are nowhere to be found in Jason Reitman`s follow-up to his sharply divisive runaway smash Juno. Instead, Up In the Air turns sharply towards the dramatic, a move that proved mildly disastrous for fellow comedy dynamo Judd Apatow just a few months ago, but which Reitman manages without sacrificing his film`s cohesiveness, largely by keeping an unswerving focus on his themes and generally keeping the proceedings in the realm of the credible.

George Clooney, finally looking slightly weathered in a role that calls for it, stars as Ryan Bingham, a legend in the field of outsourced firing, a field that is experiencing a renaissance thanks to economic downturn. It`s Bingham’s job to break the news to the newly sacked when the higher-ups get too squeamish, a job that he takes with relative seriousness without seeming personally ruffled. His routine involves endless hours spent jetting around the globe, leaving little time for familial connection, despite his sister’s (Melanie Lynskey) impending nuptials to a cash-strapped entrepreneur (Danny McBride). Further complications to Bingham`s routine arrive in forms both wanted (similarly inclined fellow jetsetter Alex, played by Orphan’s Vera Farmiga) and unwanted (Anna Kendrick’s high-strung, impersonal efficiency expert).

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A lesser film might have prioritized Clooney’s quest for his ten millionth frequent flyer mile, or thrown in large swathes of broad humour, but neither occurs, and instead we`re treated to the most low-key comic film to come out of an American studio in recent memory. Reliable comic performers like McBride, Zach Galifinakis, JK Simmons and Jason Bateman are either restrained or outright muted (particularly Simmons’ disquieting, brief appearance), and we are constantly reminded of both the harsh nature of Clooney`s work as well as his seemingly insurmountable distance from the human experience, underlined by intermittent, lovely aerial photography.

Best of all, Reitman, whose co-written screenplay was derived from Walter Kim’s novel, generally avoids expected plot turns and obvious narrative shorthand (one exception – the “speech gone wrong” cliché, appears in thankfully truncated form) in favor of developments that feel natural and characters whose apparent gains may be deceptive. It won’t please the banana phone crowd, but it acts as Reitman`s successful coming of age – not only as a purveyor of comedy, but as a well-rounded filmmaker.

– Kenneth Broadway

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