Finally, it’s awards season again, when the really big guns take aim for our hearts, minds, and pocketbooks. Coming out swinging for the bleachers are two movies made for adults of a certain (middle) age, the demographic that lopes through the rest of the year nearly forgotten, begging for scraps at a table set for callow youth and action figures. George Clooney and Meryl Streep both navigate the rough and increasingly muddied waters of love and commitment, and it’s a thrill to watch them struggle.
In This Corner
Up In The Air stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, that most frequent of flyers. Traveling light is no mere metaphor for him; his apartment is emptier even and more impersonal than all his hotel rooms. At work and in airports, Bingham is a Zen master, a thing of beauty, efficient and effective. Director Jason Reitman keeps the proceedings uncluttered too; Reitman’s screenplay, co-written with Sheldon Turner and based on Walter Kirn’s novel, is spare and modern, a sleek Cupid’s arrow shot into the sky and falling back to earth with a surprisingly twisty twang. Clooney uses his personal myth to inhabit and inform this confirmed bachelor; it’s hard to imagine another actor going so deep and hitting so hard with this risky material. Anna Kendrick’s performance as twenty-three year old Natalie is a revelation; Vera Famiga’s Alex hits some truly complicated notes with assurance and bravura. (I don’t want to spoil any of the plot, so I’m dancing around a bit; you’ll forgive me when you see the film yourself. Which, of course, you should.)
In That Corner
It’s Complicated stars Meryl Streep in an awkward, fairytale love triangle. Architect Steve Martin and ex-husband Alec Baldwin vie for her affections in this Nancy Meyer film, which doesn’t seem complicated at all really. Streep plays Jane, a divorced mother of three grown children who are practically indistinguishable from one another. (One graduates from college in New York, another leaves the house in a car, and the other is apparently engaged to Harley (Jon Krasinski), the only young character with much to do.) The requisite group of three friends (Mary Kay Place, Rita Wilson and Alexandra Wentworth) don’t earn much screen time either and are likewise indistinguishable from one another. The rule of three applies, and not much else. Baldwin’s current wife is a bitch and a little bit of a slut, which excuses the adultery at the center of the film. Audiences will eat this stuff up, but I’m not buying. I did enjoy learning how to make chocolate croissants, and of course, I’m human, so I experienced house lust a little. But mostly, this brand of Nancy Meyer/Williams Sonoma lady porn doesn’t work on me too well.
Up In The Air deals with several complicated and very serious adult issues, and it steadfastly refuses easy resolution. No pretty bows tied up at the end await us; this is real adult fare, with real moral questions and ambiguities. Characters grow and change incrementally and believably, challenged philosophically and ethically. Ultimately uplifting and hopeful, Up In The Air is perfect holiday fare.
It’s Complicated works on a much simpler level than its title might lead you to believe. With Tiger Woods’ flagrante delicti clogging the tabloids and network organs, adultery somehow gets a day pass. Apparently, once-married trumps re-married. This well-appointed bedroom farce, complete with gratuitous (and blessedly offscreen) full frontal video-chatting nudity, aims squarely at the midlife Food Network/HGTV devotee with real time cooking demos, home improvement, midlife/midday sex in expensive hotels, all set in impossibly gorgeous and unaffordable Santa Barbara. What divorcee has this kind of dosh anyway? No money problems exist in Nancy Meyerland. Now, there’s a theme park I could get behind.
Relationships, relationships, relationships. The less bogus, the better. That’s what makes my movie world go ‘round. You can keep your CGI and your car chases and your expensively imagined Armageddons. Give me explorations of love and personal responsibility. I’ll happily defend Meryl Streep with every ounce of critical faculty I possess; she is a goddess, and I worship at the altar of her blessedly long career, but Clooney’s got the edge on this particular smack.
For my money, Up In The Air simply has more to say and says it better. A smart and wise film without a moment’s didacticism – sleek and easy going down. It makes you think, and it makes you laugh, and it makes you cry. What more can you ask?