Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TIFF: Up In the Air

Lev Lewis reporting from the Toronto International Film Festival

Lev (third from left) and friends inbetween screenings

Apologies for my absence yesterday. A crowded day of films and fatigue and incoherent thoughts overtook me. Today, I have a few moments, so a few thoughts on a film that everyone is talking about.

Up In the Air
Jason Reitman's mildly diverting corporate comedy, his third stab at directing and second at writing, has moments of inspiration but for the most part feels blandly safe in its assessment of corporate culture. The film has been touted as a departure from Reitman’s earlier, more overly comedic features and this is in a sense true; a malaise of melancholy runs throughout. Thankfully the dramatic overtones rarely interfere with the humour, and this becomes the films strongest asset. For the first hour Reitman pulls off what many attempt, but few can do: the assimilation of drama and comedy. This should come as little surprise to anyone who's kept up with his career. Both Thank You For Smoking and Juno had an emotional core that allowed them to stand slightly apart from other films of the same ilk. Juno, in particular, was able to pull off an emotional denouement that rang true, while rarely losing sight of the simple fact that it was a comedy.

Up In the Air's brand of humour feels more organic than Juno's clever catchphrases, and its drama is filtered more evenly throughout. Too bad then that by the third act Up In the Air squanders most of the goodwill it has elicited. Though the steady evolution of drama builds quite gracefully, Reitman’s handling of George Clooney’s character, and the progression of the story, fall into cliché. Any sense of subtlety goes out the window as the story progresses exactly as one thinks it will. [spoiler] By the time Clooney dramatically races away from his big public speaking event the film has lost most of its grounding in anything truthful or authentic. [/spoiler]

The film’s bland cinematography, voice-over and editing do little to separate the film from numerous other movies. Clooney gives a charming, affable performance but its nothing he hasn’t done before; Michael Clayton, but funny. Anna Kendrick continues to show promise, handling what could have been a cloying character with grace but it’s Vera Farmiga who gets best in show honours. Lesser screen time does nothing to quell Farmiga’s continual acting prowess.

None of this stands to say that Up In the Air won’t play well to audiences or the Academy. In fact, the Oscars seem quite likely at this stage in the game. With Clooney in the lead and the crowd-pleasing nature of the film, Up In the Air should glide through the season with ease but the movie doesn't soar. Final Grade: C+

Next Up: Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime, The Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man and Jacques Audiard’s Un Prophète.


Rae Kasey said...

I think this is the only negative review I've read so far. Still excited to see it though, I have to say.

Andrew K. said...

Because I'm bitter and you know hate Juno I love this review. I'll still go see it with a fair mind...but I just was not buying the ubiquitous praise. I am glad somebody's pointing out Vera's work though. She is the film's biggest draw for me.

Ms.Berkowitz said...

when are you gonna see "Precious"? I'm dying to read your review.

KID said...

I'm seeing this tomorrow and I'm really hoping to feel differently about it then you did. I have already seen a Serious man and A Prophet as well and loved them both excited to see what your thoughts on them are.

Lev Lewis said...

Ms.Berkowitz: Unfortunately, I won't be seeing "Precious" at the festival. I wish, but alas I have only so much time and money.

Jsimple: You very well might. Most seem to. I'm going to tap out more thoughts on both films you mentioned but let me just say that I was a big fan of "A Prophet" and fairly disappointed by "A Serious Man".

M said...

Interesting getting someone else's account, the other reviews I've read, people love it and are gushing over it.