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Watching

Up in the Air

My friend Eric tweet­ed late last night,” ‘Up in the Air’: polite­ly mis­guid­ed lib­er­al fan­ta­sy, or egre­gious­ly clue­less and down­right offen­sive in parts Piece Of Shit?”

It made me think of the clip above. I watched Up in the Air ear­li­er this week and won­dered what the fuss was about. It tries to do a lot, but I’m not sure it accom­plish­es very much. It’s boil­er­plate romance-gone-wrong fare, freight­ed with a mes­sage about how our pri­or­i­ties are wrong and some­how the hor­ri­ble econ­o­my will help us fig­ure out what’s impor­tant. Sor­ry, Mr. Reit­man, but the notion of mak­ing lemon­ade does­n’t work when you can’t afford the lemons in the first place.

For peo­ple who’ve nev­er been laid off, it seems like the stuff dreams are made of. You’re freed from a job you prob­a­bly hat­ed any­way; you get some sev­er­ance, or at least unem­ploy­ment; and you can reeval­u­ate things and move on. Which is the log­ic that informs this amaz­ing­ly hilar­i­ous Onion arti­cle I read way back in Octo­ber 2003, when I was about six months into what would be a 2+ year under­em­ploy­ment bid.

I felt that the tes­ti­mo­ni­als that came at the end of the movie from folks who’d lost their jobs in the recent down­turn echoed the hope the Oba­ma cam­paign gave them. Their opti­mism and their reliance on fam­i­ly to sup­port them in their time of need were both very poignant, but Reit­man con­ve­nient­ly leaves out all the sto­ries from the past few years about folks who’ve lost their jobs and have then gone on to vio­lent attacks on their work­places and com­mu­ni­ties.

Is Reit­man the new W.D. How­ells, that is, some­one who puts a smi­ley face on real­ism? There’s but one “dead end” in the movie, the woman who fol­lows through on her threat to com­mit sui­cide. Every­one else just goes on their mer­ry way, for bet­ter or worse. Whether it’s find­ing a new job, or hav­ing an affair, or just run­ning away from it all thanks to a near­ly infi­nite sup­ply of fre­quent fli­er miles, every­one can find an escape from the hum­drum, if not out­right hap­pi­ness.

I think it’s that that peo­ple dis­like about Reit­man’s movies. The sim­ple-mind­ed­ness. The breezy dia­logue. The beau­ti­ful peo­ple. The whole ‘resilien­cy of the human spir­it’ trope, which some­times just seems a lit­tle more real­is­tic than the way it’s pre­sent­ed here. Reit­man’s youth­ful, priv­i­leged world­view makes it dif­fi­cult to see things dif­fer­ent­ly than he does, that is, through a lens of infi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ty. The prob­lem is that Reit­man’s skies, like those in Up in the Air, are sun­ny and cloud­less.