I’ve noticed a trend: every year, some movie gets a ton of acclaim as an “edgy, hip, breakthrough” movie that elevates it to “Oscar discussion” etc. — and the movie, when I see it, is completely forgettable, so much so that I am bewildered as to why it’s getting so much attention.
This happened a couple of years ago with “Little Miss Sunshine” — there was so much hype around it that I was stunned to discover how limited and boring it was. Then there was “Juno” — same story. This year, it’s “Up In the Air,” which I found not only forgettable, but really quite bad. I love George Clooney and Vera Farmiga, and I also love that scrappy sidekick from “Twilight,” so I had very high hopes (particularly after reading about how it got the most Golden Globe nominations, etc.) But from the first moments of the opening scene, I knew that I was in trouble: it looked like an insurance commercial. I’ve done a lot of traveling for work in the past couple of years, so I am very familiar with the airport routines that the movie celebrates, and yes, it does “capture” the experience of going through airport security a lot…but it captures it in the same way that an ad for Frequent Flyer miles might capture it.
But my main complaint is that not one of the characters ever did or said a single thing that any actual human being might ever do or say. I credit the actors with a pretty heroic effort, but the dialogue was beyond fake. I’ve made this complaint to various friends who claim to have loved it, and nobody can give me a satisfactory response. “Reitman’s films are hyper-real, not real” — “You just have to enjoy the pop psychology” — etc. I am actually very tolerant of crappy dialogue and implausibility in a movie that has some other purpose — so, for example, I enjoyed “The Hangover” despite the fact that it was not particularly realistic, because it was a farce, and I enjoyed “Avatar” and its cliches because it was a larger-than-life action movie — but if a movie like “Up in the Air” can’t deliver plausible characters, what is it? It’s a crappy commercial, for what I don’t know. Or, as a friend of a friend put it, “If the Pottery Barn started making movies, this could be their first release.”
It’s not that big a deal that I hated a movie that lots of people loved, but I am convinced that nobody really loved it, and instead they’re all just getting caught up in this trend. With the proliferation of media these days, I think everybody is afraid that studios are going to want to make only blockbusters, and that smaller, more introspective movies will stop being made. So periodically (typically during awards season) everybody latches onto one movie and makes it “mainstream” as if it’s a work of art. “Up in the Air” is the perfect candidate, because it has a “dark” and “timely” theme (the hero is a guy who flies around the country firing people), but it is also sentimental in various ways. My advice is pass, and make sure that your 3D glasses for “Avatar” aren’t smudged.