This Distracted Globe random header image

The Slower We Move, The Faster We Die

September 13th, 2010 · 1 Comment

The Bechdel Test was named for Allison Bechdel, whose comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For in 1985 measured the female presence in movies by employing three criteria: Are there two or more women in it, with names? Do the women talk to each other? About something other than a man? Far too many mainstream movies flunk this test, but in the month of September, I take a look at ten recent movies that pass.

Up in the Air (2009)
Directed by Jason Reitman
Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, based on the novel by Walter Kirn
Produced by Jason Reitman, Ivan Reitman, Daniel Dubiecki, Jeffrey Clifford
109 minutes

Written and cast close to perfection, uncanny timing further enshrines Up in the Air as one of the key films of the ‘00s. A conversation in first class with a man who claimed he traveled on business 300 days a year became the genesis for a novel by Walter Kirn. Published in July 2001, screenwriter Sheldon Turner and Intermedia made a pitch for Up in the Air, but Kirn sold the film rights to Fox 2000 with Jay Roach attached to direct. 9/11 put the project on ice, but Turner loved the novel so much he finished an adaptation on spec. DreamWorks bought Turner’s script for Ivan Reitman to direct and Ted Griffin wrote several drafts for the studio. In the tale told by Reitman’s son Jason, an ecstatic blurb by author Christopher Buckley prompted him to pick up the novel at Book Soup in L.A. and he fell in love with it.

Jason Reitman spent six years working on his own draft of Up in the Air, retaining Kirn’s philosophy while altering the story. Co-financed by his father’s Montecito Picture Company and by Paramount at roughly $25 million, the film brilliantly captures the intimate details of a man terrified by standing still, as well as the bigger picture of an economy going down the chutes and what’s important in life when your job becomes transitory. It rolls from one great scene to the next with a precision of wit and intelligence. Without a trace of smugness, Reitman tunes out genre conventions to create a drama/comedy for adults that feels dark, yet invigorating. Nominated for six Academy Awards — Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor and two Best Supporting Actresses — Up in the Air regrettably won none.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) travels the country as a personnel consultant whose clients hire him to counsel employees being laid off. Bingham also gives speaking engagements in which he extols the virtues of reducing your life to things that can fit easily into a backpack. In Dallas, Bingham hooks up with Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), another business traveler whose office consists of airplanes, hotels and rental cars. Having spent only 43 days of the previous year at home, Bingham is called back to Omaha by his boss (Jason Bateman), who introduces 23-year-old Cornell grad Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick). Natalie’s vision to reduce costs by having consultants conduct layoffs by video conferencing not only ruffles the finesse Bingham feels he brings to his job but also threatens to terminate his life on the road.

Demonstrating to Natalie that she has little understanding of his business, Bingham only ends up selling his boss on sending Natalie on the road with him. Bingham schools his protégé on how to pack and how to navigate airports (always pick the line with Asians) and shares his dream of reaching 10 million domestic flyer miles, a proud distinction only six other American Airlines passengers have achieved. Bingham convinces Alex to meet him in Miami and crashing an electronics convention, realizes how much they have in common. Reprimanded by Natalie for refusing to make a connection with anyone, Bingham invites Alex to the wedding of his niece (Melanie Lynskey) and her groom (Danny McBride) in Wisconsin. Realizing he’s matured, Bingham makes a visit to Chicago to tell Alex he’s ready to settle down.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 57,507 users: 76% for Up in the Air

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 83 for Up in the Air

What do you say?

Tags: Based on novel · Master and pupil · Midlife crisis · Psychoanalysis · Road trip · Unconventional romance

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Dad // Sep 14, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    Sorry I missed this one. I would have enjoyed the collision between company mangement travel personnel and the economy.


Leave a Comment