Submitted by Kaamya Sharma, II Year, DoHSS
This is another offering from Jason Reitman, the director of the refreshingly-offbeat-but-not-inaccessibly-so Juno. Set in an America reeling under the blow of recession, the film kicks off to George Clooney’s droll voice asking in the background, “Who the fuck am I?” You know you’re in for something slightly different from staple Hollywood fare here.
Clooney plays a man who spends 300 out of 365 days traveling the globe. He is a man who is hired to fire people. Even as his designation rhymes delightfully, you realize this is no hunky-dory desk job. His is the unpalatable duty of making an uncertain future tolerable to a person whose safety net in life has just been broken. But Clooney likes his job, likes the travel, likes to lecture people on the efficacy of light traveling and it is not long before the viewer itches to disturb his suave, impeccable exterior. This, I believe, is intended and in so far as this goes, the casting of Clooney is perfect.
Come recession and his company swoops in like a vulture to feast on the carcasses of broken businesses and broken careers. But there is an enterprising young woman [Anna Kendrick] who puts a spoke in Clooney’s free-wheeling life by inventing the idea of firing through video chat. Though at first, this seems like an all-new level of callousness, the film eventually reconciles you to the idea of doing so.
Clooney is word-perfect, picture-perfect, ‘voice’-perfect as the charming but remote Ryan Bingham. The female leads are shared by Vera Farmiga as Alex Goran and Anna Kendrick as Natalie Keener. Farmiga plays the mature, sophisticated older woman in direct contrast to Kendrick’s brash, high-strung portrayal of a girl in her 20s.
If one were to judge the merit of a film by the number of questions it manages to provoke in a person, then ‘Up in the Air’ will be right up there in the top 100 lists. Foremost amongst them is the way the film questions the warped priorities of the average American. While in most recent films, the family figures vaguely in the background while the hero/heroine and their set of friends jaunt about the big metro, family is featured rather prominently in this film and it stops just short of soap operatic melodrama and comes across as restrained, dignified emotion.
The film consists of the largest number of short, true-to-life cameos seen in a long time. Some of them are hilarious, some merely amusing, and some heart-wrenching. With these cameos, the film manages to convey the individual and collective pathos of a nation that is facing its first major economic crunch in 80 years. The onscreen crying and tantrum-throwing genuinely makes the viewer squirm at some points. Veering between sympathy for the victim’s predicament and revulsion for unseemly displays, the viewer’s emotional graph is right along the lines of the intended graphs of Clooney’s and Kendrick’s characters.
Clooney’s blatant commitment phobia undergoes some unwarranted criticism in the film, one feels. There are, after all, all kinds of people in the world. If it be his choice to live a rootless, nomadic life free of attachment, then so be it. But that is 20-year old intellectual idealism speaking, perhaps. The film gets preachy at these points about the importance of putting down your roots. Love, sharing, family and the other inescapable golden clichés also figure in these parts of the film. There is a gentler, subtler critique of excessive materialism in some of the scenes of the film – notably where Clooney and Farmiga are discussing credit cards and privilege cards.
Reitman’s penchant for picking up independent musicians across the country reveals itself in the piquant selection of songs for the soundtrack. One is hardly likely to forget the end-title credits song of Juno [Anyone else but you] and ‘Up in the Air’ does not disappoint either.
The film ends abruptly and in a rather melancholic manner. The last shot of Clooney’s grim, solitary figure surrounded by the elegantly chaotic world of the modern airport coupled with his lost expression is designed to haunt, and it does.
It is fashionable to go about America-bashing these days and UITA, at first glance, seems no exception to fashion. But the film heralds a promise for greater sensitivity from this nation that has come to dominate the international scene so completely.