Friday, December 8, 2023
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Up in the Air Review

Many a pun can be derived from the title of this Jason Reitman-directed piece. Maybe that was the point. As these characters trundle through their airport-bound lives, their love is, indeed, up in the air. Groan at the pun, it’ll be the same reaction to maintain for Up in the Air, which stars George Clooney as the hapless charmer, Ryan Bingham. Of course, he is the charming lead, had he been a charmless man then our time in his company would be an uncomfortable blur. That being said, he always is. What he brings to Up in the Air, he brings to every other moment and leading performance he finds himself in.  

Reitman’s quick-cut editing to masquerade the mundanity of the travelling lifestyle has a tinge of “I watched Hot Fuzz while on two hours of sleep” energy, and it is unremarkable at best. Still, Up in the Air is the very definition of unremarkable. Despite its all-star cast, it has left relatively limited, if any, cultural impact. “To know me is to fly with me,” Bingham spouts. Yet another nugget of nonsense from the leading man, whose suave textures and smug, self-assured style is suddenly challenged by someone he is yet to know. He is the man that lives his life inside of an airport and aeroplane. Such is the life of the travelling employee, and at least that much is presented well by Clooney’s leading performance. 

Is that not what we expect of Clooney though? He has flirted with the top of the pile for so long that we soon forget what put him there and why. Yet to feature in some role or genre that he feels acclimatised and comfortable to, his journeyman style of performing sees him slog through every genre imaginable. Up in the Air is genreless, though. By latching itself to the limitations of the real world, it loses a charm and instinctive optimism that is usually suited to the romantic-comedy-drama hybrid. Clooney has never been much of a charmer for me anyway, and his inclusion here can be reduced to the iconography his friends in high places bring. The looks of Brad Pitt, the amiability of Matt Damon, and the inherent mediocrity that comes from his work with Steven Soderbergh. Up in the Air and Soderbergh suffer from the same traits. They have an inherently interesting concept, but fail to work up anything spectacular. 

Kindling the fire of a career to improve our lives often finds us working tooth and nail to afford a lavish lifestyle we never manage to experience. I say that having only worked a short stint at McDonald’s and nothing more. To my credit, my lavish lifestyle is primarily purchasing extravagant assortments of spirits and the odd paperback. I do not reach the highs, figuratively or literally, that Bingham does when he boards a plane or two. Finding love with Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) changes him. Of course it does. Some act or character will always change a dedicated man into one of changed values and family-focused nurturing. Who can blame them? They are flying high in the privileged lane until they crash into one another. Is that a good change? Who knows? Reitman thinks so, he just doesn’t have an engaging argument for or against it.  

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Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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