04 December 2009

Review: Up in the Air

Genre: Drama

Director Jason Reitman is skilled at putting together these neat little family-dramas, in which a circle of about 8 people (who may or may not actually be in the same genetic family) revolve around a chosen central character and, like a collective in a Chaucer tale, ultimately only serve to pass things on to one another around that centered figure - so much for the heft of plot-motivations. No, no, no; I kid, I kid. It is a key and charismatic feature of a tale like this one, that in the end nothing tangible is different from what it was in the beginning; tangible forms may change hands, but no tangible thing changes in and of itself. However; much like the revolution of electricity, the metallic rod in a solenoid; the simple changing of hands is enough to ignite, alter, and polarize the central figure in this film.

That figure - fortunately for us - is Mr. Clooney. O, Mr. Clooney: How magnetize you well. In top form here, under Mr. Reitman's skillful direction (but not necessarily because of it), Mr. Clooney is certainly a notable and noteworthy actor, who seems uncommonly to hold more of screen better, the farther into his career he advances. Not short on his heels either are the women who play the characters whom his character courts; the rather staggering, semi-stumbling Ms. Farmiga holds her hand steady throughout her performance in this film and the ingenue Ms. Kendrick, a supporting favorite of mine from the world of theater ever since her precocious quip "Mama thinks I'm living in a convent" in the ensemble revue My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies (1999), delivers a turn worthy of more than just her Tony nomination.

Praise is also quickly due to the quite capable cinematography, which stood out despite the fact that this film is not a "visually driven" one, and to the exceptionally nimble editing, which consistently - quite like an architect's compass dancingly describes the structure of a building's design - rhythmically plots the event-structure of this film.

However, it is on the screenplay, that I'd like to spend the rest of my words in this review, for it as the foundation of this verbally driven tale is clearly its most important part. As a piece, it for the most part does well, and I issue the following critiques of it not to detract from it wholly but rather to suggest ways in which it might have been improved specifically. Primarily, the screenplay sags unfortunately throughout the middle portion of the play. Like a bloated stomach on an otherwise lean body, it pulls the entire work down, into a fatty and rather unsightly mess of veering-toward-maudlin, family-centered, "traditionally inclined" 'dialectics' (which I've lifted into single quotes due to their extremely one-sided nature). That is, while it may in fact be so, that "Everyone needs a co-pilot," it is owed to the audience the portrayal or at least the pretense of the portrayal that some people, however rare, may just not in fact need one; and ensuingly, owed as well the concession that what may be right for one or for even some is not therefore always right for all. Whether the screen-writers suffered from the lack of negative data (i. e., lack of knowledge of anyone in their actual lives who can live successfully without a "co-pilot") or just have the more sinister and manipulative ambition of regirding the societally painted lines around what is and what is not positive/prosocial behavior, they contrive overly emotional scenarios at the expense of the cogency and logic of their on-going argument. Mr. Reitman (as director) then was very right in his own decision to bury, with as little fanfare as possible, the necessary evil that the plot built into itself (i. e., the awarding of the frequent flier miles to his sister and her new husband), and to focus instead on the meatier, neat(i)er bits that his film's screenplay so smartly conjures up (e. g., "You are a parenthesis"), bits and pieces that together compose the lyrical and personal fondness that - going forward - hopefully may continue to mark his directorial oeuvre entire. Though not a 'screenwriter' himself, with a sage ear for tone and a savage knife for editing (or vice versa) he needn't be one; rescinding the exiguous from a decent screenplay and tempering the rest for tone more than makes up for the significant failings that the same piece may have had in another helmsman's hands.

For Up in the Air, Grade: A-/B+ - though the best new work that I've seen all year, it still falls short of any level of pure "A" - at least in my opinion, here.

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