Friday, 22 January 2010

Film review: Up in the Air

Zero and I went to see this film yesterday, as one of us (I'm not saying who) had a birthday.  It is interesting to compare reviews. This from Thinking Faith, the Jesuit on-line journal:
I would certainly recommend Up In The Air as a brilliantly acted, well produced movie, that owing to its stellar cast, will no doubt gain a fistful of awards in the coming months. But a somewhat lacking ending will prevent this film from true greatness.
And this from the United States Catholic Bishops Conference movie reviews site:

The film contains off-screen adulterous and nonmarital sexual activity, brief rear nudity, much sexual talk including lesbianism and masturbation references, a few uses of profanity and much rough and crude language. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
 The film classification here in the UK is a 15 - no-one under the age of 15 may watch this film in a cinema, or purchase it on video. That Thinking Faith's reviewer does not see the sexual content and foul language in the film as worthy of comment in her review is a cause for reflection for a review published on a Catholic site. Whilst I wouldn't want to say that this is a film that Catholics should boycott, I certainly think that, should they see it and comment on it, they should do so with a suitably critical mind.

I found the use of the F*** word, and the sexualised talk in a number of the scenes, problematical in two regards. The first is that the film gives the impression that the use of such language is quite the normal thing in professional working environments - when it isn't, and would be seen as bullying or harrassment. Anyone with even the slightest human resources experience (and I have some of that, through my trade union work) knows the problems that the use of such language creates in most working environments, and the case work that can result. The exchange of (essentially obscene) text messages shown in one scene, for example, would be grist to the mill of a gross misconduct dismissal, particularly if it had been conducted over mobile phones provided by the employer. The second regard is its portrayal of HR specialists as being very ready users of this sort of language. If my own experience is anything to go by, they are just too much aware of the potential pitfalls (ie, being "let go" - but without notice and without any severance package!) to even think about taking the risk involved. Perhaps it is meant to be funny - but I didn't hear anyone laughing in the cinema as the text messages were shown on screen.

The sad thing is that all of this detracts from what in other respects is an interesting and thought provoking film. Like the same producer's earlier film, Juno, some interesting issues are explored - but probably lost on most of the cinema goers who will see the film. Casual sexual encounter is there to be contrasted with the permanent commitment of marriage; a young employee who moves town only to then be dropped by the boy friend she has followed; an individualistic self reliance (ulitmately, I think, portrayed in the film as not being satisfying) contrasted with the more settled network of a nuclear and extended family (but this is not portrayed as completely wholesome, with a counter-example of a marriage that has broken up and a groom who is just rescued - somewhat ironically by George Clooney's anti-hero character - from cold feet on the morning of his wedding). At one level the film works as a portrayal of the very ordinary human experiences that we, or people we know, might have in life these days. At another level, it should perhaps prompt us to reflect more on that experience, and come to an evaluation of it.

The outcome of the film itself leaves you with the feeling of not having come to an evaluation of all of these issues, with the exception of a feeling of complete let down when George Clooney's character achieves his ambition to achieve 10 million air miles - this on his return flight from finding out that his hotel fling is in fact a married woman with children and not the independent, available soul he had thought she was. This is the "somewhat lacking" ending to which the Thinking Faith reviewer refers.

Like Juno, the film contains some very well crafted and humorous exchanges. Some of the reactions of those who have just been sacked are quite moving (these, according to the USCCB review, were filmed using real workers who had recently been laid off), though others are obviously a bit over acted. An interesting aspect of the film that it is easy to overlook is the portrayal of the relationships between the different members of the family of George Clooney's character, briefly shown at the wedding of that character's sister.

I was not the only male in the cinema, but, females were in a decided majority. As Zero suggested during the final credits, perhaps it is a "girls film" with "gorgeous George" as the main attraction ...


Anonymous said...

zero says
I was quite embarrassed by some of the language and said to Joe early on "I wouldn't have brought you to this film if I had known!"

Francis said...

Thanks for the review from United States Catholic Bishops Conference movie reviews site:

Sounds like my kind of film!

But seriously, Joe, I think the more thoughtful and even-handed approach you adopt is better than just a condemnation of the content.

When I was about 15 I went through a pentecostal phase. One evening the pastor was railing (as were The Nationawide Festival of Light)against 'Last Tango in Paris'which was almost synonymous with lust and pornography. For some reason or other (not BECAUSE it was lust and pornography: remember I was going through a penetcostal phase!)I went to see the film. The thing that struck me was that all these critics (many of whom I suspected hadn't actually seen the film) had missed the point: the fim was showing the failure of meaningless sex, casual sex; was about the abuse of sex. It wasn't promoting it at all.

Joe said...

To perhaps be fair to the USCCB review, I do just quote its final paragraph. The USCCB film reviews always use their last paragraph to indicate a kind of "grading", an indication of the extent of swearing and sexual content, and an indication of moral value. It's a kind of Catholic version of the film ratings given here in the UK by the British Board of Film Classification. Seen in the context of a whole review, it doesn't come over as condemnatory, more as informative. I find it quite useful, and my experience of comparing contents of the review to films I have seen suggests accuracy and reliability in the reviews.

I do operate a simple rule, of not reviewing on the blog a film unless I have actually been to see it!

Francis said...

Here's another review. I shall send him a link to yours, too)

BTW, there was a profile of Archbishop Nichols on radio 4 (Sunday 7th Feb)