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Down with the People: Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air”

Down with the People: Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air"

Up in the Air wants to tell us a lot about America. About our priorities, our lost dreams, our pasts and futures, our blind spots, and, as any award-hungry movie does, it wants to diagnose how We live now. Just how confused the film is about who that We might be, and how much filmmaker Jason Reitman and his co-screenwriter Sheldon Turner (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) evidently care about those “little people” who make up most of that We, should be more of a topic of discussion in the film’s rapturous reception. Instead, Up in the Air has been accepted basically at face value—fitting for such a superficial film.

The only verifiable truth I took away from Up in the Air about this country that We live in (a jazzy version of “This Land Is Your Land” plays sassily over the opening credits) is just this: only in America could the allegedly defining film about the current economic crisis focus not on any one of the struggling unemployed but rather on the sleek, sophisticated, thousand-dollar-suit-wearing corporate smoothie whose job it is to fire them. (The two most resonant films of the decade about the effects of sudden unemployment, Time Out and Tokyo Sonata, each about male breadwinners unable to tell their wives and children about losing their jobs, were from France and Japan, respectively, and could serve as valuable lessons to the makers of Up in the Air.) Ever the faux everyman, Reitman throws in snippets of Real People to placate doubters (lest anyone think a Hollywood filmmaker’s prime motivation might be, gasp, opportunism), but these clips of nonactors who were actually terminated from their jobs, hired to speak their frustrations directly to the camera, every so often thrown at the audience like circus peanuts, are cynical concessions. Up in the Air is not about the fired father who fears that he won’t be able to pay for his child’s education, the single mother of two who loses her job-based health care, the fiftysomething careerist who’s been informed of her uselessness in her company’s grand scheme—it’s about that bright, gleaming movie star George Clooney, jetting effortlessly, with the aid of his perfectly packed suitcases, business-class seats, and determined wing tips, from sea to shining sea. Read the rest of Michael Koresky’s review of Up in the Air.

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