Like my book reviews site, these are movie reviews I write for entertainment purposes only. These are just my reviews and my opinions. They are not endorsed by Blogger or any movie studios or anyone else. So there. I borrowed my scoring system from the Metacritic site, which does not imply an endorsement from them, although I think they do have a very nice website. I convert the 1-100 scores into 1-4 stars, essentially it works like this:

1 star = 25 points
2 stars = 50 points
3 stars = 75 points
4 stars = 100 points

And then if something falls about halfway between, then I'll give it an added half-star.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Up In the Air

I'm going out on a limb and saying this will win for Best Picture of 2009.  Not necessarily that it IS the best picture of 2009, but because it's peaking at the right time (the end of the year) and it is a great picture.

The focus of the movie is Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) a consultant who specializes in firing people.  His company in Omaha sends him and other consultants around the country to lay people off.  Because he's been doing this for a long time, Ryan has gotten air travel down to a science.  While the rest of us struggle with luggage, security, kids, and so forth, Ryan cruises in and out with ease.

A large irony is that while Ryan fires people for a living, he values loyalty clubs from American Airlines, Hilton Hotels, Hertz Rental Cards, and so forth.  He has flown so much that he's nearing 10 million miles, which only six other people have done with American Airlines.

On the side, he gives "motivational" lectures about how to live without being burdened by all those annoying family members and so forth.  He also has a tryst with another frequent traveler named Alex (Vera Farmiga) in Dallas and works out meeting up with her somewhere else along the road.

All of Ryan's plans are threatened when a young woman named Natalie (Anna Kendrick) joins the company.  She presses the head of the company (Jason Bateman) to switch over to Web technology, firing people via Web cams.  Naturally Ryan isn't happy about this, and even less happy when he's sent back on the road with Natalie to show her the ropes.

Nothing romantic happens between them, because Natalie is about half Ryan's age and has a boyfriend of her own.  Instead, they have more of a philosophical dispute.  Ryan introduces her to his wonderfully free lifestyle, which she has trouble accepting.

Then another meeting with Alex and a trip back home to Wisconsin to his sister's wedding leave Ryan questioning his wonderfully free lifestyle.  This is where the film slows down and threatens to break into sentimentality.  The great thing is that while it seems ready to end with the stereotypical kiss and fade to black, the movie resists this urge.

That's because this is a romantic comedy for grownups.  Not necessarily grownups in age as in maturity.  It's for people who realize that Happily Ever After isn't real and that if Cinderella rides off with Prince Charming before long she'll realize he's cheating on her with one of the ugly stepsisters and so takes the castle and half the treasury in the divorce.  For the most part it also resists the slapstick gags and adorable kids that dumb down so many other romantic comedies.

This is also what I liked about Jason Reitman's first movie, "Thank You For Smoking."  Where most movies would have had the main character (a sleazy smoking company lobbyist) learn a valuable lesson and change his ways for the better, Reitman resisted the Hollywood ending to have the character remain true to himself.  It doesn't work quite as seamlessly here, but still the way it plays out is far more true than most Hollywood movies.

For the first 3/4 of the movie Clooney plays Ryan as Danny Ocean, full of confidence and superiority.  It's only in that slower final quarter that the cracks in the facade begin to show and Clooney manages to pull this off.  Farmiga also carries off the Alex character who's sexy but not sentimental.  The rest of the cast does its job as well, including cameos by Reitman regulars JK Simmons and Sam Elliott.

You'll probably hear more about this as awards season heats up.  Make sure you go see this, but understand while there is romance and comedy this isn't your typical date movie.  And for that you should be grateful.

That is all.

My score:  90/100 (3.5 stars)

Metacritic score:  83/100 (3 stars)

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