Up in the Air (2009) – Looking Closer’s Film Forum

I’m not allowed to post my review of this film before its release date, due to studio policies.

So I’ll wait. In the meantime, here are some reviews that have been online for a while now…


Amiable and innocuous, Up in the Air offers a disingenuously smooth flight over choppy waters and rugged terrain. … Up in the Air is neither funny enough to be a straight comedy nor serious enough to be a telling drama about the human toll wrought by economic crisis. Instead, the film is merely a pseudo-redemption saga that’s pleasant enough in the moment but – despite numerous sequences of laid-off individuals railing in close-up at Ryan about their unjust fate – maintains considerable distance from actually plumbing the raw emotions of its central subject.


It’s bad enough that [Reitman] has a depressingly pedestrian visual sense and relies too heavily on strummy musical montages — his films also purport to sum up, and half-assedly at that, The Times in Which We Live.


…a star’s vanity vehicle masquerading as a searching project. As he grows older, Clooney seems to allow traces of anxiety to peek from behind his smirk, maybe even hints of William Holden-like bastardry to come. So far, however, his willingness to play successful men nauseated by their moral quandaries has been undercut by a weakness for cute playing and facile redemption, as if he were afraid that revealing the panic under his grizzled handsomeness might cost him his fanbase of swooning housewives.

It’s a weakness in synch with Reitman, who, after the slapdash cynicism of Thank You for Smoking and the alt-weekly snark of Juno, has settled for an anonymous sort of polish. Up in the Air isn’t without its behavioral charms, especially in the sexy, relaxed rapport struck between Clooney and a for-once-not-jittery Farmiga. It’s a smooth ride, which is precisely the problem in a film proposing to examine a hollow character’s malaise. Nobody gets offended, nothing gets questioned, the crowd goes home properly cheered. Expect a cartload of Oscars.


Up in the Airhas no double or hidden meanings, and precious little is left unsaid through dialog or via voiceover. … it doesn’t require the viewer to do work or ask questions, and barring a single scene in which Alex and Natalie have a loaded conversation about romantic ideals as Ryan silently listens on, nothing is left open for interpretation –– what you see is what you get. In other words, Jason Reitman does what Hollywood filmmakers are supposed to do. They are supposed to tell stories in the most straightforward manner possible; they are supposed to make their choices seem invisible to the casual viewer so that the stars pop and the Big Emotional Moments sing. That Reitman is perceived after this trifecta as being anything like an auteur in the contemporary sense of the word is remarkable.

Spotted with snippets of mock exit interviews with real recently laid-off Americans, Up in the Air tries hard to embody this moment of national melancholy, but Reitman reveals his hand by setting the opening credits to a light blues cover of “This Land is Your Land.” The song, and the film, are pure American schmaltz jazzed up, its inherent brightness tinted blue but never significantly darkened. Up in the Air is the kind of feel-good film about bad news that has been winning Oscars for decades. Like its opening song, we’ve heard Up in the Air’s tune so many times that it no longer means anything.

And that’s why The National Board of Review have just named it the Best Picture of 2009!

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  • Having just seen the movie, I can understand the criticisms above but I also found myself surprisingly moved by the movie–especially the film’s second half…I’ll tread lightly, but there may be spoilers alluded to. I was very afraid in the first half that it was heading down the road to be just a smart comedy where, at the end, Alex would leave Ryan because he couldn’t “make a connection” and then he would show up at her doorstep in a third act twist.

    What I did not anticipate was the final half of the movie, which begins to show the affect Ryan’s life has had on his family and then begins to ask the question what if it is too late for Ryan to learn his lesson? I thought the “parentheses” speech was heartbreaking and found that the final voice over, which would normally be the uplifting ending, was a surprisingly melancholy ending and it left me a bit shaken. I’m just leaving my 20s and, to be candid, I’ve often admired people like Ryan, who are traveling all the time, not having to stay in one place and deal with the drama created by people–it may be a cliche, but having lived it, I think it’s a true one. In the last year, as I’ve met someone and fallen in love, I’ve seen the sadness of that previous lifestyle. So the film, for me, hit home. It may be an obvious film in some areas, but I would rather have something obvious and true than something edgy simply for edginess sake.

    Still, I wouldn’t put it as best film of the year. That would mean ignoring “Up” and “A Serious Man.”

  • Yeah, I saw that. I linked to the reviews that made sense to me. :)

  • Clint W

    But then there’s Roger Ebert’s four-star review: “This isn’t a comedy. If it were, it would be hard to laugh in these last days of 2009. Nor is it a tragedy. It’s an observant look at how a man does a job. Too many movie characters have jobs involving ruling people, killing them, or going to high school…. Notice how Reitman likes to start with the way corporations justify immoral behavior and then apply their rationalizations with perfect logic. That method was at the core of his brilliant debut, ‘Thank You for Smoking’ (2005)…. With these three films at the dawn of his career, we can only imagine what comes next. He makes smart, edgy mainstream films. That’s harder than making smart, edgy indies.”