Suave acting, funny moments, breathtaking cinematography…but is that all there is to a good movie? We know we are a minority in saying this, but “Up In The Air”, though it possesses these good qualities, still lacks that extra flair for being a truly “good movie”. The movie tells the story of veteran road (or should we say air) warrior Ryan Bringham (George Clooney) whose isolated and travel filled way of life is disrupted by two women: the unexpected arrival of tech savvy Cornell grad Natalie and the sexy, sophisticated female version of Ryan, better known in the movie as Alex. Not a bad start for a cliché romantic comedy, right? And of course, we are expecting to be treated as an audience of a romantic comedy, complete with cheesy moments, predictable happy endings, and the general message that love triumphs above all and will never let you down.
Actually, the movie genre, like its message, is shrouded in ambiguity. And this ambiguity abuses the trust the audience places in the movie they expect to see. “Up In The Air” could be a flashback to Juno, writer Jason Reitman’s previous hit, except this time we are left with a more cynical and indistinct message. Take the trailer, which sets up the audience’s expectations for the movie. Full of business interactions and isolation, morphing into love and stereotypical races through airports, with a voice over reciting “the backpack speech” throughout, praising the Buddhist virtues of having nothing. The clever and obvious contrast of the scenes and the voiceover leads the audience to believe that relationships will make everything better. The plot of the movie half delivers on this implied promise, and half muddles it up. The first hour of the movie is a drawn out depiction of Ryan’s quotidian routine, trapping the audience in boredom with its monotony. The second hour of the movie picks up the pace, but leaves the audience with confusing messages and a general feeling of dissatisfaction. This discontent is due to several unanswered questions: what will make Ryan happy? For him, probably not a relationship, as one can tell from his failed relationship with Alex and his backpack speech. There goes the promise from the trailer, letting the expectant audience down through Ryan’s lack of fulfillment. But the movie offers an alternative, conflicting message when the jarring clips are shown of the fired workers who are happy despite their unemployment due to the families and relationships that keep them going. As members of the audience, this doesn’t seem like it’s enough: electricity keeps you warm in a different way than human comfort alone can. The subject matter alone strikes an especially sensitive chord with the intended audience, which we assume is the American public. Facing a poor economy, possibly recently let go from a job, home foreclosures because they lack money – this is the world the audience lives in and the movie is essentially telling us to suck it up and be happy with the current situation. Unfortunately this is not how the world necessarily works, as the audience is probably aware. Not that Ryan supported this message either. The movie suggests that he isn’t worthy of happiness as a jerk, but yet the changes he undergoes leave him in an even less satisfying position, and the audience with more questions, a far cry from the romantic comedy ending they would expect.
Perhaps we are making a mountain out of a molehill, but since we ourselves are members of the intended audience we believe we should say our piece. “Up in the Air” was trying too hard to be unique and creative, but by trying so hard, it lost its direction and its power. This effort to be unique is apparent – people who like this movie probably give more credit to the creativity aspect than we chose to. But truly great, creative movies can be made for the mass audience, not just the critics. The movie was entertaining no doubt, but there was no clear message no resolution was offered to the audience members who shared in Ryan’s long journey. There were no right answers, just more questions, and this movie just leaves the message “Up In The Air”.