Up in the Air


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

In a year when the Oscar race has no 600-pound gorilla in the room, Up in the Air has been touted as a Best Picture candidate. I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, the film is supremely slick and it does have some depth underneath its brightly polished veneer. In that respect, the film is a reflection of its lead actor, Hollywood's designated silver fox, George Clooney: gleaming, glib, smooth, in control, with just enough vulnerability to imply that it's more than a pretty face. If there were an Oscar division for the products with the best packaging, Clooney would win every year, and Up in the Air would be a champion.

But he doesn't and it isn't.

In fact, for 93 minutes it is a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy lifted somewhat above average by its fine cast and its willingness to take on a heavy theme (the pain of losing one's job). Then at minute 94 it takes a dramatic and daring turn and defies all of our expectations. In fact, I was close to giving the film a standing ovation at minute 94, but before I could leave my seat, I realized that the screenwriter didn't know what to do with his brilliant and bold plot twist. The last ten minutes of the film just wander off into nowhere, sort of pretending that several of the film's key developments had never happened at all, dazed like a prizefighter after a hard head shot.

So here's what Up in the Air would be like if it were a person. It's the jock who decides that he's not going to spend his life chasing after a little ball, but instead he's going to go back to the dream that made him happy. He's going to try to write the great American novel and spend time with his family. We are moved by his story. We stand up and applaud him for walking away from all that money and fame to do the right thing for his wife and kids, and for himself. But then he disappoints us. He tries, and he just can't do it. He's a bad writer and a sub-par husband and father. The only thing he's good at is playing ball, and when he was doing that he at least had some focus in life. Now that he has quit, he's not good at anything. He walks around dazed, like a prizefighter after a hard head shot.

In other words, it's not enough to come up with one brilliant plot twist which subverts the genre conventions. You also have to know what would happen to your characters in case that twist actually happened to them. Or if you don't know, at least come up with a hypothesis. Don't just end the movie with everyone walking around like a dazed boxer.

After having boldly declared that Up in the Air should not be a Best Picture winner, let me mitigate that position just a bit. First of all, George Clooney is magnificent at being completely charming while playing an essentially odious character. Since Cary Grant retired there has probably been no other actor in the business who could make us like and feel empathy for the man who is delivering the lines Clooney has to deliver in this film. And since I'm saying Clooney is the only actor in the world who could have pulled this off, I guess I'm also saying that he is a legitimate Oscar candidate. And although Up in the Air should not really be playing in the Best Picture League, it is still a worthwhile film. It's not very deep or very smart, but it's deep and smart enough to realize that its first 93 minutes could easily have led to a bullshit ending, so it did not go there. That alone makes it worth the time invested in it.

If only it could have replaced the bullshit Hollywood ending with some other ending, as opposed to no ending at all.

 Blu-Ray info








4 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
3.5 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
86 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
83 Metacritic.com (of 100)

Nominated for six Golden Globes - Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and all three lead actors.



8.3 IMDB summary (of 10)
B+ Yahoo Movies


Box Office Mojo. It opened on about 1900 theaters, and took in $11m (number six overall), and repeated that performance for a second week.



  • Vera Farmiga's character does full rear nudity, but it was done by a body double. The director shot it both ways, but decided to go with the double.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a: