MVFF: Up in the Air (B-, downgraded from B)

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Jason Reitman’s new film, Up in the Air, which opens Christmas Day. It’s a competent movie, with some truly touching and funny moments. It just wasn’t special in the way we’ve come to expect from this young filmmaker’s earlier features, Thank You for Smoking and Juno. Reitman’s script is good, just not as good as Diablo Cody’s script for Juno. Hearing the director describe what Up in the Air means to him during tonight’s Q&A made me appreciate it that much more, but future audiences won’t have the benefit of those comments.

One highlight is George Clooney, who steps out of his usual slick role. He’s still charming — he is George Clooney, after all — but in this role he shows a vulnerability that I don’t recall seeing in his previous performances. Clooney plays  Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizing consultant who spends his entire life flying from city to city, laying people off. (Yes, Reitman has updated his script started seven years ago to incorporate the current unemployment crisis.) Bingham is the “bad guy” but, as Reitman said tonight, “with a heart.” This is in contrast to the young MBA-ish Natalie (played by relative newcomer Anna Kendrick) who is revolutionizing the layoff biz by firing people via teleconferencing.

Also very good is Vera Farmiga who plays Alex, Bingham’s female soul mate. Reitman may have chose the name Alex for it gender ambiguity, for in both character and plot Ryan and Alex have reversed their roles from what we’ve come to expect in most stories. (I can’t say more without being a plot spoiler.) Yes, we get to see George Clooney’s softer, feminine side.

The music in Up in the Air is quite good, and everything else is, as I said, competent. It just wasn’t special enough to earn more than a B rating. Opening December 25, it may get a lot of sentimental support from the critics. It is a more mainstream film than Reitman’s earlier pix and it was apparently a big hit at the Toronto Film Festival.

Updated October 15.

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