Up in the Air (5/10)
This isn’t to say that there isn’t some fun to be had with “Up in the Air.” George Clooney’s charm is positively effervescent, and the character of Ryan fits him like a glove. Jason Bateman as his boss gives an understated severity and quiet comedy to his role, and though his scenes are few and far between each one strikes just the right chord. JK Simmons (who has been in all 3 Jason Reitman movies) and Zack Galifianakis each have small but poignant cameos, playing the roles of employees fired by Ryan. Danny McBride as the down-to-Earth fiance of Ryan’s sister is a welcome respite from the insufferable cockiness and dick-measuring obsessiveness of Ryan and his love interest, Alex.
The luminous and spunky Vera Farmiga is not to blame, as she plays the character perfectly as written. What’s to blame is the awful script. The second she and Ryan meet their chemistry (Clooney and Farmiga are the only reasons their characters are bearable) erupts and they’re acting like old friends and star-crossed lovers, with Alex giving cringe-worthy lines such as this, “Come on, show some hubris. Impress me.” It’s not the chemistry of real people that we see, it’s the chemistry of stars acting like some superior and unbelievable version of real people. Even though, in the long run, their chemistry does become believable, it doesn’t develop like that, instead popping into existence out of nowhere, pre-packaged like so much else in the movie, made all the more frustrating by a last minute effort to cram pathos into the script that only destroys what tenuous believability their relationship has already achieved.
One might argue that such efforts are only to illustrate how there are no easy answers in the movie, just like life, but when your entire film is stuffed to brimming with plastic catchphrases, transparent characters, and a maddening tidiness that staunchly refuses to resemble any kind of messy reality, the illustration seems sadly incompatible with the rest of it. And it’s why, by the end, despite zippy cinematography, a few excellent performances, and an uplifting message about the importance of people in our daily lives, the good intentions are almost completely undone by its artificiality. “Up in the Air” desperately wants you to believe it is sincere and somehow real, but just like airline food, the taste is cardboard, the texture stringy, and the flavor, though glaringly strong, is somehow, absent.