LONDON: ‘In the Air’ tonight

Posted by · 5:19 pm · October 18th, 2009

George Clooney in Up in the AirTo use the umpteenth bad aviation metaphor in connection with the film, “Up in the Air” landed in London this evening with a gala festival screening — though this time it came unaccompanied by George Clooney, who had skipped off to the Rome fest after doing double-duty at the LFF earlier this week with “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “The Men Who Stare at Goats.”

(Given that “Up in the Air” is plainly his prime 2009 work, I’d have shuffled things around to ensure he could make it, but never mind.)

Given the raft of glowing notices from Telluride and Toronto — not least Kris’s own elated take — my expectations for Jason Reitman’s third film couldn’t have been any higher as I settled into the press screening this morning. And as the lights came up 100 minutes later, they’d been satisfyingly met in one sense — and left frustratingly dangling in another.

This is exemplary studio moviemaking: thoughtful, carefully crafted and slyly performed, a film that uses comfortable mainstream structures to bring less comfortable questions into the open. Oscar recognition, when it comes, will have been fairly earned — though I wonder if the film is perhaps a little too dry, too delicate, to take gold in the top races.

I completely agree with Kris that Clooney has been gifted with the most self-reflective role of his career, while Anna Kendrick sweet-tart interpretation of a trickily written character is a breakthrough turn. More subtly resonant is Vera Farmiga, faced with the challenge of a character whose intrigue emerges largely with hindsight — it’s the film’s most oblique turn, and arguably its most impressive.

But for all my enjoyment of the film’s immaculate individual elements — the aforementioned performances, Dana Glauberman’s whip-smart editing, Jason Reitman’s highly resourceful adaptation of a generally inferior novel (though I did miss Walter Kirn’s more detailed evocation of so-called Airworld) — the emotional kick it seems to have delivered to so many of my peers and colleagues was missing.

It’s as hard to articulate personal disconnection as it is to explain why some art moves one on a gut level — everyone comes to a film with different personal baggage, so there’s no solid frame of reference to work with. In any event, as much as I appreciated the film’s sensitive, timely evocation of personal and professional ennui in a world increasingly designed to minimize human contact, I rarely felt I was being addressed by an individual as much as I was being pitched a universal malaise that I don’t quite share in — and for me, the film assumes its universality a touch too easily.

Still, it’s good to see Jason Reitman tackling such tonal range in his still-young filmography — though I could have stood a little more of the loose, spiky texture that characterized his still-undervalued direction of “Juno,” a film less cannily written and cleverly assembled than “Up in the Air,” but one that moved me more directly on first viewing.

→ 19 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

19 responses so far

  • 1 10-18-2009 at 5:30 pm

    Lev Lewis said...

    I agree, except I think you’re giving the craft work too much credit. Eric Steelberg’s lensing was blandly generic and only slightly superior to most Hollywood comedies. I’d take Reitman a lot more seriously if he spent more effort on his visuals. Really brings down the quality of his work for me.

  • 2 10-18-2009 at 7:38 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Great to have two perspectives on this film from a single site’s staff; also, very happy to know you’re singing the praises of Vera Farmiga and can only hope that’s a trend I’ll see a lot of this season.

    Speaking of Farmiga–do you think the studio can actually make a case for a lead actress campaign? (Never mind if it’s a wise idea–although my own opinion of that is hell no.) Just curious, thanks!

  • 3 10-18-2009 at 8:17 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    kris gonna kill you!

  • 4 10-18-2009 at 8:19 pm

    Dan said...

    Very interesting reaction, indeed! I’m glad you have the balls to be honest, Guy. I’ve been sort of worried that I’m going to feel the same way as you. I’m pretty young (22), and I’m not sure I can relate entirely to this film. Based on the new trailer and the two short clips, I’m intrigued but not moved… far, anyway. I hope I love it.

  • 5 10-18-2009 at 10:08 pm

    david said...

    Concerning what American Requiem posted above:

    A patch of dialogue from the beloved classic film “A Christmas Story” only substitute Kris for the father, and Guy for Ralphie:

    Mother: Randy? What’s wrong? Whatcha cryin for?

    Randy: Daddy’s (Kris) is going to kill Ralphie (Guy)!

    Mother: No, he’s not.

    Randy: Yes he is!

    Mother: No, I promise, Daddy (Kris) is not going to KILL Ralphie (Guy)!

  • 6 10-19-2009 at 12:09 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    James: The Vera campaign is no longer set for lead. Some behind-the-scenes stuff happened on that this week and the long and short is she’s staying in supporting.

  • 7 10-19-2009 at 12:12 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Other James: In a word, no.

    Requiem: Just as I didn’t kill Kris when he hated “I’ve Loved You So Long” last year, I’m sure he’ll let me live this once ;)

    Anyway, we’re in agreement that it’s high-quality work.

  • 8 10-19-2009 at 1:27 am

    Chris said...

    I feel the same as Dan, maybe I’m just wrong but from the way Kris and others have described the film, I feel like I might not be at the point in my life where I can truly relate to what the film is saying. I hope I’m wrong though, since I really liked Reitman’s other two films.

  • 9 10-19-2009 at 3:54 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I don’t think it’s as simple as an age issue, or even a situational one — I think it’s quite possible to be moved by the film even if you’re not at a similar personal crossroads to Clooney’s character. Like I said, pinpointing these things is difficult (and highly subjective) — I guess I didn’t find as much intimacy in the film as I’d hoped for.

  • 10 10-19-2009 at 6:01 am

    Loyal said...

    I was moved by Schindler’s List and I’m not a holocaust survivor. A great film transcends minor things like the ability to relate to subject matter.

  • 11 10-19-2009 at 6:06 am

    Rob said...

    Personally/specifically relating to a character’s situation or not shouldn’t be a roadblock (or a lone reason) for being moved by it.

  • 12 10-19-2009 at 6:17 am

    Chris said...

    Loyal, that’s probably the stupidest comparison you could think of, even though your point in general is of course valid in a way.

    Being able to relate to a character or the subject matter is not what makes a film great per se, but if, as it seems the film’s mood is very much based on the concept that the main character is at a certain point in his life and develops from there, then it certainly is important that you can somehow relate to this experience.

    To give you another silly comparison, I’m not a mobster, but “The Godfather” still resonates with me. You don’t always need to have some connection to a film, but in this given situation it seemed to me like it could be the case.

  • 13 10-19-2009 at 6:43 am

    John said...

    How is it possible to HATE ‘I’ve Loved You So Long’?

    I thought it was one of the more engrossing, interesting, well acted, well written dramas of last year, in any language.

  • 14 10-19-2009 at 7:24 am

    Loyal said...

    Insert “any film” with great critical acclaim then Chris, pick your poison. The point remains. Thanks for playing.

    Here’s another example: I’m very good looking, I dislike Pinot Noir, I haven’t created a rejected piece of art. And yet, I love Sideways.

    We can ride this merry-go-round all day. If the viewer isn’t resonating with the material on screen because there’s a disconnect in lifestyle or age (so petty of a rationale), it’s the fault of the viewer, not the film itself.

  • 15 10-19-2009 at 7:52 am

    PJ said...

    Thank you for the lovely articulation of admiring a work but not feeling a total personal connection to it, Guy. I always have trouble explaining my reaction to “Fight Club”, amongst other films, where the ‘universal malaise’ was particularly present. It’s somehow worse when people expect identical personal derivations from such universal themes just because one happens to be a member of the same (supposed) target audience. Btw, should the first sentence of the second to last paragraph read “there’s no solid reference to work with”?

  • 16 10-19-2009 at 8:38 am

    Chris said...

    “If the viewer isn’t resonating with the material on screen because there’s a disconnect in lifestyle or age (so petty of a rationale), it’s the fault of the viewer, not the film itself.”

    I never claimed the opposite.
    Anyway, let’s wait till I’ve seen “Up in the Air”, then we can talk again about this. There’s no point in discussing something that is merely a feeling I get from reviews I’ve read.

  • 17 10-19-2009 at 10:39 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    PJ: Yeah, that’s a typo. Thanks.

  • 18 10-19-2009 at 11:26 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Hey Guy,
    If it’s not too late, try to check out Wah Do Dem. After an awful first 10 minutes it’s really quite beguiling, I thought.

  • 19 10-19-2009 at 11:38 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yeah, I heard nice things about it from the press screening last week — which I unfortunately had to miss for the Fox junket. It’s been and gone at the festival, but there is a screener available to borrow, so I might just do that.