I mostly enjoyed this Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated film. SPOILER ALERT!!! If you intend to see it and don't want to be told about a significant plot development, please don't read any further.
So -- those still with me are warned that I'm about to reveal a plot twist.
The central relationship between George Clooney's character and the woman played by Vera Farmiga unfolds as a sexy romp conducted when their paths cross at one city or another. She is portrayed, from the moment we see her, alone in a hotel bar, as Clooney's peer: a free spirit, untethered by any domestic life, uninterested in commitment.
Then, she accompanies him to his sister's wedding. In a series of scenes we see the two of them as a couple, surrounded by members of his family. That he is allowing himself to feel closer to her is shown in a scene in which the two of them sneak into his old high school. When his sister's fiancée has an attack of cold feet, Clooney saves the day and persuades him to go through with the wedding. The change in his outlook may be a bit improbable but we are not surprised when he realizes he can't live without the Farmiga character and flies to Chicago and turns up on her doorstep without warning her.
But when she opens the door we hear children playing, and as she, clearly not pleased, asks what he is doing there, we hear a man's voice asking who is at the door.
This jarring revelation struck a wholly false note. I mean, come on! The film had shown the two of them carrying on an affair for months, with no comment from her, no awkward silence, no unexplained phone call, no hesitancy, no clue whatever that she was hiding the truth about her life. This wrenching change of direction was completely unbelievable.
I'm also surprised that, as far as I'm aware, no critic has asked why, in order that his character be shown to have the integrity we expect from a Clooney character, her's has to be revealed to be that of a cheat.
I know the story is based on a novel by Walter Kirn, who spoke on NPR about the adaptation of his novel, and said that a lot had been changed in the movie version. I have not read the novel and I don't know if it has this plot twist, but I'm not sure how it would be possible to bring it off in a novel. I feel the film, at any rate, was dishonest and, as a story, badly constructed, with a twist that cheapened the rest of the film
In a well-constructed story there are clues that make sense when the truth is finally revealed. When the incest at the heart of Chinatown is revealed, for example, other moments in the film make sense. But Up in the Air gives no clues to the dissonant surprise it has in store for us.
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