As much as I admire Jason Reitman's dedication to opening credits sequences, and as much as I enjoyed Thank You for Smoking and Juno (which I will defend from even the most impassioned backlash), I didn't like Up in the Air nearly as much as I had hoped or expected to. I didn't imagine it would be the best movie of the year, as awards bodies seem to be selling it, but I'd hoped for something a little less glib and Hollywood-ish, a little tarter than the fundamentally mushy story that Reitman sells the audience in the movie's third act.
Before that turn for the worse, though, I was with this bright, spry movie in its portrayal of the same sort of amoral slickster as the one at the heart of Thank You for Smoking. George Clooney's Ryan Bingham, professional corporate downsizer, is likeably soulless, someone who's rejected the sentimental conventions of society and discovered that it works pretty well for him. Even when Ryan hooks up with a fellow air-travel aficionado (Vera Farmiga) and takes on a cocky young protege (Anna Kendrick), it only humanizes him a little bit, like seeing Aaron Eckhart with Cameron Bright as his son in Smoking. He's real enough to identify with, but he hasn't been compromised.
And then, disappointingly, he is. All the snappy dialogue and sharp acting (from all three leads) kind of goes down the drain as Ryan learns important life lessons, discovers the value of human connections, experiences heartbreak, blah blah etc. It's the same rote sentiment of any number of Hollywood movies, only Reitman delivers it with more panache and subtlety, which in a weird way makes it almost worse. He's selling a line of bullshit, and he's putting it across like it's some profound truth, and I found that very irritating. I ended up liking Ryan even less by the end of the movie, which does end with more ambiguity than your typical rom-com but doesn't really allow for the possibility of Ryan going back to his solipsistic ways. I liked that Thank You for Smoking didn't feel the need to redeem its main character, and here Reitman seems to have succumbed to that pressure.
The patina of timeliness here is also a little disingenuous, not nearly as insightful as it's been made out to be. Making this movie during a serious economic downturn is a stroke of luck, really, and Reitman can seem like he's got his finger on the pulse of something when really this movie has nothing to say about the economy or corporations or anything like that. It's the familiar story of the self-centered asshole who learns to love, and as such it succeeds in a lot of ways. Its failure, though, is in succeeding at something so disappointingly conventional.
Now playing in limited release; opens wide December 23.