26 February 2010

Review: Up In The Air

A couple of weekends ago, I had a free Saturday. I had no idea what to do, so I started trying to see if I could find any movies that I would want to but Victoria wouldn't. I saw that Up In The Air was playing at the Gallery Place theatre. Now, I will see pretty much anything with George Clooney in it, and I had heard enough good reviews to make seeing this in the theatre worth it. Turns out, I freaking loved the movie. Some nice humor, nothing too over-the-top, a bit of dark human drama. Pretty much everything I could ask for in a movie.

I decided to pick up Walter Kirn's novel of the same name on which the movie was based. I of course expected some changes, but the general plot would be the same, right? Absolutely not. The book and the movie share a few things:
  • Ryan Bingham is the protagonist and narrator
  • Alex is a love interest
  • Ryan's sister is getting married
  • Ryan is attempting to reach a high number of frequent flier miles (the actual # is different)
  • Ryan fires people for a living
Now that seems like a pretty substantial list. But there are some major differences. The book's Bingham looks forward to not flying. The movie's would find this insufferable. The book's Bingham is based out of Denver and spends most of his time in the West, while hoping for a job in Omaha. The movie's is based in Omaha and is trying to keep his job there while flying across the entire nation.

But the biggest difference between the two is who Ryan Bingham really is. In the movie, I saw Bingham as a fairly down-to-earth (despite all the flying) guy with some definite family and social issues, but nothing you wouldn't expect from a guy who spends his life in the air (to the tune of 10 million miles, all domestic). In the book, we are led to believe that Bingham is either insane, or just very amnesiac. (It's worth noting that other people have seen the insanity in the movie's Bingham. In his review of the movie, Will Leitch writes "Isn’t Ryan Bingham, all told, kind of insane? Just a step or two removed from Adam Sandler’s Barry Egan in Punch Drunk Love, he’s obsessed with American Airline frequent flier miles, a loner misfit who can’t interact with another human being longer than it takes to pay a bar tab." So there is that.)

Also, the book's Bingham has a strange fascination with drugs that leads to an episode in Las Vegas which was one of the most disenchanting passages I've read in a while. It is completely out of the realm of possibility to think that the movie version of Bingham would have this same thing happen. And here's where I am a bit confused. Did I find this passage so horrible because I was upset that our "hero" becomes an antihero? I'd like to think I've got enough appreciation for dark literature/film/etc. to like a good antihero, but here I'm not sure. I was really pulling for Bingham to have some sort of fulfillment, and he doesn't get it. Part of my problem though is that the Las Vegas scene doesn't seem entirely believable. Maybe it's partially the movie image of Bingham I had, but I never was able to fully believe that even book Bingham would go on a Vegas bender. It seems too cliché.

All of this said, would I recommend it? Sure. It's a really fast read, and it does have some interesting bits. For instance, this take on materialism (note: Great West is the made-up airline Bingham flies):
I know of no pleasure more reliable than consuming a great American brand against the backdrop featured in its advertising. Driving a Ford pickup down brown dirt roads. Swigging a Coke on the beach in Malibu. Flying Great West over central Colorado. It's a feeling of restfulness and order akin, I suspect, to how the ancient Egyptians felt watching the planets line up above the Pyramids. You're in the right place, you're running with the right forces, and if the wind should howl tomorrow, let it.
So yeah, if you've got nothing better to read, pick up a copy of Up In the Air, but I don't think it's anything you should specifically make time for.

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