UP IN THE AIR is fairly pleasant and technically well-made. The stars and interactions are amiable. I liked what it was trying to do and what it was trying to say. It is even timely in a tad on the nose, but still completely respectable way. I fully recognize that it has some worth in the landscape of poopy movies out there. So why don’t I like the movie? The problem is that central conceit of UP IN THE AIR doesn’t really make sense whatsover, which means the entire movie is basically an irreconcilable trick.
There is one central question which highlights this problem: why does George Clooney like isolating himself from people and spending most of his time on an airplane? Seriously, why? The only substantial answer the film seems to give is because he does, that’s why! By all accounts the character is amiable, genuine, and well-intentioned. He likes to get away from his family, but in all scenes with them he is warm, kind, and means well. He can’t help falling into perfect comfort and ease with his female counterpart. Within a day they act like they’re in a full blown relationship despite the fact that they’re both no. So when he gives his speeches about wanting to accumulate 10 million miles, burning your backpack of a life, and how comforting the lonesome travel routine is to him… well… it seems completely out of left field for his likable personality type. That person is not like that. That person is even real. Hell, I know that person. That person is slightly Aspergian. That person is unadjusted. That person doesn’t get why their job is evil, or why it’s actually so important that actually connect with other human beings. And as such that person does not behave like George Clooney. Conversely George Clooney is one of the only people who can make that character likable and thus enjoyable for the audience to watch, but does not doing that completely undermine the entire conceit of the movie? His character is really doing nothing but going through the motions of dissasoiation. No matter how hard he tries to sell it, we never buy it for a second. Not from George Clooney. UP IN THE AIR is really nothing more than an irreconciable premise, well executed.
So it comes down to a question of logic, and if you engage that question, the movie can’t help but fail. (Note: this isn’t a plot hole kind of thing. Plot holes you can ignore much, much easier to forgive than a hole in character. Then again some people don’t agree with that, but I really believe we will follow and forgive a character for doing anything plot-wise if they are true to “themselves.” If a character bends their will merely for the sake of plotting, or another character’s development and not their own individual reveal, it just never truly works.)
Similarly there is a development in the film that highlights this exact same failure in logic, and this is a MEGA SPOILER so be wary… okay here’s the spoilier… When Vera Farmiga’s character is revealed to be married it is both the most obvious thing (because they way they shoot the build up to the scene) and similarly the most left-field nonsensical thing for her character. Aside from one singular part of the film, she never for a second behaves as if she’s married. Or someone who is the married type. Why would she behave in such “relationship-y” way with George Clooney’s character? Despite a few in-your-face lines, it is obviously not just a sexual fling for her. Why would she go to his wedding, and to his high school, and go down all those roads if he’s just her “escape” from her marriage? Why would she be so helplessly at ease with him when he’s getting wisty with and attached to her? It makes absolutely no fucking sense. It’s merely a story telling trick to set you up for her eventual reveal (ie “betrayal”). And if that’s part of her game or modus operandi than she is simply an evil, callous, and use-a-term-again Aspergian human being… which the film does not seem to be indicating whatsoever. So there.
The end result is this: UP IN THE AIR is a slick, detached hollywood production that is trying to say something worthwhile and timely about wounded and detached human beings, but can only do so by hoodwinking you with dishonest charm.*
* it should be noted Anna Kendrick’s character, despite being the most cartoony of the bunch, actually made sense and was therefore the best part about the movie. Like I said, I will forgive anything if the charcter’s actions and behaviors are emotionally valid for the character.