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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.

Michael Jackson:
The Interviews
Vol. 2 (2009)
. "Up In the Air"

This lighter than air escapade is an unromantic comedy with a social content on the side which seems devised to provide the ballast of "importance." It's also another outing for George Clooney in an Oscar season that could be seeing him crisscrossing his own award trajectory between this and the Clooney-year's arthouse entry "The Men Who Stare at Goats."

This story of a professional sacker--as in the person who fires employees for the company managers who can't do it--is made of such helium infused seriousness it couldn't fly without the fuel of emotional detachment it requires and of which Clooney, as the consummate professional, pours forth with his usual ease. Contrast this to his company man, "Michael Clayton," in which his assignment is to be a situation fixer for a big law firm.

One way to describe Ryan Bingham (Clooney) is to point out that his supreme dream is to rack up 10 million miles in order to win the magic card that brings you airline elitism, privileges and perks to die for. For him, this is a life's goal, the mystical cloud nine, the traveler's paradise. He would be one of only a handful of people who breathe in this rarified atmosphere. He will have found glory in his life.

It's not so far off. The realization of the quest is approaching, and it may occur within the scope of the story. But, in stories, people change. And, if and when it does happen, Ryan may be a very different person.

Which is hard to imagine since he takes such delectable enjoyment in a job that makes him more at home on an airplane reclining seat than the recliner in his living room. His value system may not be the greatest for any kind of sustained romance, but that's exactly how he likes it. He is, after all, suited to a job that most mortals on the right side of normality would find horrendous--telling employees of American companies from coast to coast that their services are no long needed.

When you're a professional at such a thing, you expect the variety of reactions... the tirades, the anger, the sadness. And, you can sit there, waiting the reactions out while effecting the right amount of solicitude and empathy. He knows when he can step into the outpouring of emotion to introduce a pamphlet that informs the client on how to handle the change in circumstances, how to find another job, how to retrain, how to learn to accept lower wages. Ryan is good at this. You know it when you see him in action.

Enter two female characters to move the air around in Ryan's dreamscape. For some reason, Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman), his boss, has brought young Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) into the firm and wants her to accompany Ryan for training purposes. Part aggravatingly know-it-all and part eager to learn and practice the art of delivering terrible news, she's a presence he unwillingly tolerates as he might a spoiled daughter. Ryan is practical and realistic.

But then comes the second female. He meets femme fatale Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) in his usual hangout, an airport bar. Master of the small talk with sexual implications, our Ryan turns it up as his interest rises in this fine-looking woman whose work also involves boarding passes. It isn't long before his charm penetrates her careful reserve and a relationship of like-minded travelers with no thoughts of commitment is off the ground.

If a guy who is (sorry, was) tickled with a life of no complications, to whom the unanchored life is the ideal of harmony--if this seems suspiciouly immature, wait'll you see the effect the two femmes with whom he's become involved have on the state of his evolution.

Clooney seems to be made for parts calling for plot devices that hinge on charm--he's got so much of it, and it's solid enough to add a patina of acceptance to the unlikely. Therewith lies the comedy. Or, if you will, the lessening of a tragedy. As an everyman, he shows us how to deal with life's course reversals and disappointments.

We so admire his great looks and Cary Grantish appeal that there's hardly an actor around who commands as solid a following by all genders. In the realm of comedy, he also has an ability to make a questionable line seem like it should make you laugh. When accused by his trainee that his airport security check list is racist, for example, he says, "I'm like my mother, I stereotype. It's faster." Not so funny, but it sounds like it should be.

Farmiga is a good match considering where it's all going with this woman. Supporting roles are all capably and functionally performed, and easily replaceable.

The buzz around this Clooney performance for an Oscar nod is made up of--if you're objective about it--pretty thin air (despite the fact that the noms for it are already piling up at the Clooney gate). Yes, the subject of wholesale job cuts is of tremendous concern these days. But, as written by writer-director Jason Reitman ("Juno") and co-writer Sheldon Turner ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning"), it isn't what causes the turbulence in the central figure's composure and therefore isn't a vital story element.

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The Blu-ray Edition DVD
The Soundtrack

As said at the beginning, this is an unromantic comedy. It's not, primarily, a message of sociological seriousness. That part is merely a framing device contrived to give the whispy cloud layer that is the story's real subject some weight. It's about a superficial guy who thinks he's got everything figured out until he's taken down by something below the surface that he didn't know existed: his own emotions.

So, let me be as objective as Ryan is when he's telling someone they're fired. I can't climb aboard the seriousness express. The cabin is overbooked. "Up In the Air" is a charming, lightweight outing deriving its lift from the inimitable Mr. Clooney. I would have liked it as much if the character was selling War Bonds.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Comments from readers:
Very well written
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Site rating: 8

"Up in the Air" has little virtue. Nice job.

                                                           ~~ Charlie Haviland
Very well written
I've seen the movie and agree with the review
Site rating: 8

Spot on, Mr. Brenner.

                                                           ~~ Kim V.

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