Up In The Air – George Clooney

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Will the real Ryan Bingham stand up?

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Two weeks ago, I had a chance to see the new movie “Up In the Air” with a female friend of mine.  While I enjoyed enjoyed watching the film, I also realized that I’d never really want to see it again.  Why?  There is something off about it that I couldn’t put my finger on immediately.  Then I realized the issue as the reason dawned me.

It’s that the film deceives and confuses us with George Clooney.
I’ll explain.  I like a lot of Clooney’s movies and I like that he understands his best assets.  He understands what any leading man type of actor knows:  To bring a piece of himself into each character because that’s what makes a good leading man.

Either way, I guess I’d qualify as a Clooney fan.  I do enjoy his movies, (and had he not been in this film, I would not have paid money to see it in the cinema), but probably even more so, I am a  fan of the fact that he uses his celebrity for good causes.  Whether he is raising funds for victims of 9/11 or taking a dangerous trip to Dafur with his farther to raise awareness, he does try to create some sort of a positive socio-political difference.  He seems genuine and sincere so it’d be difficult even for a cynic to dislike George.

OK, with that in mind, let’s get to the movie and Clooney’s chracter.  He plays Ryan Bingham,  a loner character who nearly travels on a plane every single day of the year.  His fear of responsilbity is so great that he doesn’t own one piece of furniture in his apartment nor  does he have any friends.  He has completely neglected his family, his nieces and nephews, and the only thing that matters to him is accruing more Airline miles.  On top of all that, his occupation is to fire people from their jobs every day of the year.  That’s Bingham in a nutshell.

Halfway through the film, I realize that I really dislike this Character.  Ryan Bingham in some ways can be seen as despicable.  If he were walking the sidewalks of NYC and a grand Piano landed on top of his head,you really wouldn’t care all that much about it as an audience member.

There is the underlying problem.  We as audience members like George Clooney.  There is nothing likable about a guy obsessed with airline miles who has forsaken and forgotten his family and everyone else he has ever known, finding refuge sitting in airplanes and airports.  We don’t care what  happens to him.

The ONLY Reason that we sit through this movie watching this character is because it’s being played by George Clooney.  Anyone else, and some of us would walk out of the theater.  But we like George. He is likable.  We are not watching Ryan, we are watching George, or Danny friggin’ Ocean.

Again, you can’t dislike a guy like that.  It’s that Clooney has an interesting quality: He is inherently likable. You could say the same about the veteran actor Jack Lemmon, (who passed away recently).   You feel sorry for him at the end of Glengarry Glenross.  According to Jack Lemmon himself, you’re supposed to hate this “Levine” character as he is a bit of a low life snakeoil salesman, but again,  it’s difficult  to dislike Lemmon.  You feel sympathetic towards him.

So back to “Up In the Air.”

Depending on which perspective you look at it, Clooney is either miscast, or then again, casting him is a stroke of casting genius.   As you watch the film, you find yourself apathetic towards Ryan Bingham.  You think to yourself, “Why am I wasting two hours of my life watching the story of some douchebag with no redeeming value?” Then it hits you.  You’re watching it because it’s Clooney, not Bingham.

We do NOT continue to watch this film becaue we are interested in Ryan Bingham.  We watch because we are interested in George Clooney. Think about this and you’ll find it to be true.  You may have thought you were watching it because of Ryan, but you really were not.   So on the one hand, it’s casting genius but then, it’s miscasting when you feel empty walking out of the theater.

The movie should have gone the other way.  They should have cast someone who is inherently dis-likable: Someone like James Woods!  (Not necessarily Woods, but someone who carries the same vibe & demeanor)

We find James Woods objectionable even when he plays good guys!! Something about his demeanor speaks to our subconscious.  It’s as if we inherently know Woods is a prick.  We’ve all had a boss or a teacher or someone who was a complete prick and James Woods represents all of them in our psyche.  The impact of the movie would have come to fruition if this story followed literature laws and learned something redeemable about becoming someone a little less self-absorbed.   And at the end, the character has to die.

As it stands, “Ryan Bingham” writes a great recommendation letter for the younger woman in the film, representing his selfless act, but it’s not enough.  His act of redemption needs to resonate with us more.    My female friend chose to see it as “He’s turned over a new leaf, he is a new person now.”  Yet, she was unaffected by the character as well.  I realize the angle of a scorned and bitterman who has engulfed himself in work ready to finally open up emotionally…. but the film doesn’t explore this character’s past.  Hence, there has to be something substantial to make an impact.

It’s how I’d done it.  Yes, to some it’s cliche, but the only way to make character of Ryan Bingham impactful on the audience, is to kill his character.  It’s the same reason Jack Nicholson’s McMurphy is destroyed at the end of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest” and (unlike Bingham) we the audience really actually like McMurphy.

In this instance, if the point of the movie is to realize how so many people live boring mundane and self-absorbed lives, then his character needs to be killed in order to create a disturbance in the psyche of the audience emotionally. The movie more impactful if the selfish discpicle scrooge is killed off at the end, but does one heroric act that makes a difference, and allows him to realize this sort of eiphany…

The way it’s made, you leave the theater with an apathetic feeling, “Ahh, could take it or leave it.”  The bit of sympathy you feel for his character is only felt because you like Clooney’s charm, mannerisms and sincereity.  The sympathy, hence, is really not for Ryan Bingham which is the flaw of this well intentioned, well directed, and well acted film.

So there you have the mixed emotions. The film is well acted, and well directed and yet you realize that you were completely apathetic towards professional loner, “Ryan Bingham,” except that you were watching George Clooney.

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Up In The Air, As it relates to Dating.

Anything useful regarding dating and attraction as far as this movie is concerned?  Indirectly, yes.  It’s the concept of “Banking on your likability.”

A lot of guys seek dating advice from various sources, but along the way, sometimes they lose their way.  They become too preoccupied with trying to learn how to use techniques for every situation but they lose sight of banking on their best assets.  Ever heard the expression “Put Your Best Foot Forward?”  It’s an important notion in being more successful in dating.  It’s learning to enhance your strengths, or building on your best traits.  Different people are gifted with various traits, whether it’s intelligence, a great sense of humor, superior athletic ability and so forth.

You can learn to lead with your best foot forward, displaying your best assets.  You have to first discover what that is, be it charm, charisma, passion, or whatever.  Then you must learn to utilize that trait as your proverbial “Best Foot Forward” as you turn into a strength that works for you.