by Tony Dayoub
A number of you (including an ex-girlfriend) have written me to ask when I plan on reviewing Up in the Air. A fair question considering that besides Avatar, The Hurt Locker, and Precious, Jason Reitman's recession-era comedy has been hyped as a shoo-in for multiple nominations come Oscar time.
As someone who is currently assessing the best films of the decade, I strive to see as many films as I can to give you the most inclusive and honest conclusion I can. Sometimes, I'm not successful. My opinion on the first half of the decade is slanted heavily towards American films. 2005 through 2007 were years that proved especially difficult in finding the time to get out and see everything since these were the years in which I started a family. But I can assure you that since I've started Cinema Viewfinder back in January of 2008, I have seen virtually everything that has come down to Atlanta, and thanks to screeners and my annual trip to the press screenings at the NYFF, even some things that haven't. I can safely say if I haven't seen it, it's because I deliberately avoided doing so.
Also, I try to write about everything I see. Sometimes I don't for the best of reasons. Though I loved this year's Duplicity (so much I lurved it), I just couldn't find a way to do the damn film any justice without giving most of it away. So I'll get to it, once it's had some exposure. Other times I don't write about movies because my heart just isn't in it. Which brings us to Up in the Air.
The truth is, I saw this movie in the early days of December. But I found it mediocre to okay at best, a sharp contrast from all the hype it had already been recieving as one of the best movies of the year. And before you even think it, I generally work hard to avoid reading any reviews before I watch a film—to avoid any "opinion contamination" for lack of a better term. But when you open your email, and you're getting news flashes from the Associated Press, Daily Variety, etc., really pushing the idea this film is going to sweep it up at all the major awards; when you hear Robert Siegel on NPR's All Things Considered interviewing a very congenial-sounding Jason Reitman (Juno) about his latest movie; you just can't help having a prejudice going into the film. And my prejudice was this: If I'm anything less than completely bowled over by this average-looking George Clooney indie comedy, I'm going to think it sucked.
And guess what? The film, likable in some parts, just kinda sits there for me. Funny? Not really, just kind of amusing in that oh-that's-how-it-is-in-my-life-how-perceptive-of-them kind of way. Relevant? Only in that Clooney's main character fires people for a living, and a lot of people are getting fired right now. But short of their immediate reactions to being fired, we never really see the effects of the recession on any character in the movie, a missed opportunity which could have been explored in depth when Clooney's character goes to his sister's wedding in a small town in the Midwest, an area hard hit by layoffs. Poor Avatar is getting eviscerated (including by me) for aspiring to its relevance simply by planting some well-known "War on Terror" buzzwords here and there, but at least Cameron's film is technically innovative. Performances? I'm actually not one of Clooney's numerous detractors who attack him for always playing some version of his smug self ad infinitum. Some actors are not cast because they are "acting" as much as they are for being "personalities" (see Cruise, Tom; Schwarzenegger, Arnold; and Wayne, John). But with my highly elevated expectations, Clooney struck me as smugger than ever.
Which is to say, this is not a review of Up in the Air, not like the ones I generally write. It's more of a cautionary tale about buying into the hype. It's more of a since-you-wanted-to-know-what-I-think rant. It's more of a thought piece anticipating Cinema Viewfinder's new mission to focus on cinema—whether good or bad—that interest this writer, and resisting the urge to write about a movie simply because it's what's expected.