Jason Reitman really surprised me with this one. I've read the book, see, and I kind of figured it wouldn't be a straight adaptation, but God! He and co-writer Sheldon Turner certainly do a number on Walter Kirn's source novel, making up characters (Anna Kendrick's Natalie) while building up others (Vera Farmiga's Alex). It was a lot like Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, adapted from Upton Sinclair's Oil!. The main themes and protagonist were all on hand, but expounded on and developed...differently. But effectively.
I like a lot of things about the movie. George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man whose life is the hotels and planes he spends time in on his way to firing people for "pussies". And it took me a while to see it, but it really is one of his more nuanced performances. It surpassed his Michael Clayton, and is at least on par with Bob Barnes and Fred Friendly (2005's Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck, respectively). Seeing him as vulnerable as he is here was a real change, and he did it so subtly. I love the look on his face when he sees his sister's husband-to-be (Danny McBride) ask her to be his co-pilot. Love it. Probably my favorite moment in the movie.
Vera Farmiga is smart, sexy and confident as Alex, who describes herself to Ryan Bingham as "you, but with a vagina." You love her. You must. I certainly fell for her, and so of course I'm rooting for the coupling all throughout. There are sweet moments between her and Clooney that are charmingly understated. Farmiga gives one of the most relatable, believable performances of the year.
The movie threw me for a loop. Its ending...that's a great ending. It left me speechless, sitting in the theater with my friend, until we finally walked back to the car -- silently. I love it when a movie can knock me flat on my ass without my expecting it. And truly, Up in the Air did just that. It got me emotionally involved without me realizing it. I would definitely see it again: for the acting, the writing, the directing, for Rolfe Kent's score, for the cinematography by Eric Steelberg, etc. It's stunning.
And now the negative. From Videohound's picks of best supporting performances, 2009:
"In the hands of 99 out of 100 actresses, Natalie Keener is a shrill, whiny, cliché of a character – a cocky young lady who learns a serious life lesson from the more experienced older man who mentors her. Yawn. We've seen that before. The tough assignment...was to take that character model and make it feel genuine."
This is what Videohound's Turk182 wrote about his pick for Best Supporting Actress, Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air. What's funny is that I completely disagree. Kendrick has certain moments where she shines, reminding me why I like her in Rocket Science and tolerate her in the Twilight movies. But her Natalie Keener is shrill, whiny, and cliched. Some of her dialogue, God help me, sounds like lines written for the middle daughter in Dan in Real Life. As for that breakdown scene midway through the film? Yikes. Talk about overplaying the comedy. She is the least consistent out of all the actors, and there seems to be no throughline for her character. It's all moments. While I didn't hate her, and while I definitely (DEFINITELY) still love the movie, Kendrick's Natalie gets a shake of the head from me.
I will throw my hat into the ring for Amy Morton as Cara, Ryan's sister. Like I always say: if I can find a real-life counterpart to your role, your doing your job perfectly. Morton, who was nominated for a Tony for her work in August: Osage County, plays my aunt beautifully. She's taken over the mother role, yet she is just as vulnerable as anyone else. Exasperated at her brother's aloofness, she nevertheless strives to keep the family together. A small but wonderful bit of actressing.
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