I knew what I was getting myself into with Up in The Air. My expectations were obtainable; I merely wanted a “meh.” After an hour and forty minutes the film generated that exact response from me.
Up in the Air is Fight Club for yuppies. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a man who lives on an airplane and works an undesirable job, like Ed Norton in Fight Club sans the hatred for his work. Ryan’s philosophy is to have no attachments. In an early scene in the film, one of the first scenes featuring Ryan’s motivational talks, he advises his audience to load their possessions into a backpack and light them on fire. Tyler Durden would be proud. The last of the similarities: Ryan has a relationship with Alex, who shares his view of love and its limitations, meaning that all they do is have sex together. And by the end of the film he has developed feelings for her, even though this goes against their agreement.
Now for the differences:
Up in the Air lacks the punch and enthusiasm of Fight Club. That is obvious and intentional. The message in this film isn’t to try to feel alive by whatever means necessary, the message is to settle. And that settling isn’t all that bad. Ryan and Alex both agree that settling isn’t settling when you reach a certain age. Get a job, work until you’re too lonely to notice and then…keep working. The film offers no answer to the riddle of Ryan’s life. Apparently he is to remain satisfied by luxury hotels, scotch on the rocks, sexy bedmates, and an ineffable sense of hollowness.
George Clooney’s character undergoes no change whatsoever. He takes a chance by going after Alex, but what is his response to this? He doesn’t quit his job, he doesn’t seek out a longer relationship, he doesn’t call his siblings or Natalie (Anna Kendrick). The conclusion is that he’ll return to the same life he was learning to pull away from. Fight Club does not have an exceptionally resolute ending, but Ed Norton’s transformation is clear by the end of the film. The only thing that could be considered a change in Ryan’s behavior is the fact that he writes Natalie a letter, but that seems like basic human decency. As charming and professional as Ryan’s character is, I’m guessing he always would have been open to writing Natalie a letter of recommendation.
Nevertheless, George Clooney turned in a solid performance. Not the best of his career or even of this year, that goes to Fantastic Mr. Fox. The supporting cast was solid. Jason Bateman was funny and had a new look (beard). I liked Anna Kendrick, but I really thought her character should have ended differently. Maybe Ryan will live vicariously through her; she leaves the job and, I’m sure, will continue to believe in true love. Vera Farmiga was believable, attractive, and the twist in her character saved the last twenty minutes of the film from being an endless series of montages.
There was nothing wrong with Up in the Air. I understand why people enjoyed it. The demographic probably also enjoyed As Good As It Gets, About Schmidt and Sideways. Thirty-five years old, middle to middle-upper class, and remorseful for a life they’re unwilling to change. Up in the Air is not good enough to like, or bad enough to hate. Meh.