May 06, 2010
Up in the Air about "Up in the Air"
Posted by Tamara Piety
I know the movie "Up in the Air" is now a little bit old news; but this is one movie I've been wanting to comment on that I thought a Glom audience might be interested in. In the movie George Clooney plays a guy named Ryan Bingham who works for a company that is hired to do the termination interviews when a company has to do a lot of lay-offs. Bingham lives to travel and believe relationships "weigh you down," that the secret to life is to keep moving.

    Was it just me, or did others find what was essentially a feature-length, product placement for American Airlines and Hilton Honors a little less than thrilling?  Don't get me wrong, George Clooney is always great. And full disclosure, I'm an Advantage member and a Hilton Honors member and like racking up points with the best of them. But I really am not so thrilled about forking out $8.50 for a sales pitch, and a slightly snarky one at that.

    Critics seem to love the movie though. Anthony Lane for one over at the New Yorker had this to say.  Director Jason Reitman got lots of praise for using real people who had actually been laid off in the opening vignettes. And he says  he made this films because it was about "connections" and important things in life. See this. But the way he films the so-called important things (Bingham's sister's microscopic diamond ring, the cheesy looking hotel in which the wedding takes place, his sister's underwhelming betrothed, Bingham's own home in Omaha, etc. ) makes all those things suffer in comparison to the pristine framing of the shots involving the sponsors and ultimately appears to convey a rather different message; that only chumps believe in love or family. (Lane calls it "hokeyness" for a reason; Reitman made it look hokey.) 

    This is especially true when you consider how all the relationships turn out. Not well. (And the movie broadly hints that things don't look so good for his sister either.) You might conclude from the film that giving up anything for a relationship is for chumps; except that Bingham's job illustrates that maybe giving up relationships for jobs isn't such a great idea either. I won't spoil it for you if you want to watch the movie; but don't say you weren't warned.

    Seen in this light, his use of people who had really been laid off makes it look a little like Reitman is trading on their pain and authenticity while sniggering behind their backs at how foolish they were to have invested so much of themselves into their jobs.That is certainly Bingham's attitude in the film. He admits his severance speech is mostly intended to ease people out of the room calmly. 

    Reitman may be sincere in his desire to convey a message about the importance of human connections over material things, but if so, I think his message got hijacked by his sponsors. Advertising Age reported that American Airlines and Hilton didn't actually have a traditional product placement deal with Reitman. It had something even better. It provided access in exchange for some control of the portrayal. How Up in the Air Got a Free Ride It was a good deal for Reitman because the use of the planes and properties otherwise would have cost a lot of money. And it was a great deal for American Airlines and Hilton because this kind of advertising you just can't buy. But does it make for good films?

    I don't know. It is gotten to the point that whenever I see a brand name in a movie I wonder hope much they paid for that exposure. So far, I have never been wrong when I thought that there was a deal in the background. Next I want to know if BMW paid for a product placement in Roman Polanski's "The Ghostwriter." Hmmm.

NOTE: This was supposed to post on the 28th but I somehow failed to set it up properly to do so and so I am re-posting it today. Sorry for the duplication.

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