I saw Up In the Air on saturday night. It is well written, well acted, stylishly directed, and has some very funny jokes. George Clooney knocks his role out of the park, and Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga are rightfully receiving Oscar buzz for their supporting roles, and the movie has numerous scenes stolen by brief cameos from Zach Galifianikis, Danny McBride and J.K. Simmons. It is a very good movie - I didn't enjoy it very much.
I discussed the movie with my father last night. His basic take on it was that "people who call movies like Up In the Air and About Schmidt 'comedies' are full of bullshit." That's putting it bluntly, but I totally understand what he means. Ryan Bingham, the movie's main character is a consultant who is hired by companies to fire their employees for them. He spends less than forty days a year in the cheap one-bedroom apartment that he rents; he spends more than three hundred days travelling each year, and his biggest goal in life is to reach 10,000,000 frequent flyer miles. Bingham's two sisters are unhappy with the modest lives they lead in small-town northern Wisconsin. There is a plot twist in the second half of the movie that, without giving anything away, is as big of a stomach-punch as anything I've seen in a mainstream movie since Maggie Fitzgerald broke her neck in Million Dollar Baby. As if that wasn't depressing enough, the movie takes a break from the plot every so often to show a series of brief interviews with the employees that Ryan Bingham has fired, who talk about the depression and stress of getting laid off.
Perhaps those scenes just his a little too close to home for me, but those laid-off employees - some of whom are played by actors, but most of whom are real-life laid-off workers - cut me to the bone. A movie about a depressing subject does not become more enjoyable by dint of being well-made; it becomes more difficult to watch, and while Up In the Air is no Schindler's List or The Killing Fields, it isn't the free-wheeling, Bonfires of the Vanities-esque satire that its advertising campaign and many mainstream reviews have made it out to be. As a movie, it is brilliant. As an entertainment, it is a cold shower. A cold, depressing shower.