This entry was posted on Friday, December 4th, 2009 at 3:13 pm and is filed under Frequent Flyer. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
Up in the Air, which opens today, stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizer, motivational speaker and über frequent flyer with the loathsome job of helping fire unlucky (and unsuspecting) employees, and Vera Farmiga as the hotel-lobby-bar hottie who shares his “Airworld.”
Airworld is a mythical place where many frequent flyers find themselves going about their daily lives at 33,000 feet—a world keenly described by Walter Kirn in his book of the same name, on which this movie is based. You’ll be sure to recognize his protagonist: the well-mannered but slightly odd management-consultant or business-owner type who spends way too much time on planes. You’ll also laugh at Bingham’s countless odd mannerisms and obsessions, even as you see the hints that there is a seriously dark side to the guy’s life.
Surprisingly, the film does a truly convincing job of portraying a frequent flyer’s relationship to the skies. But as you might guess, 108 minutes isn’t long enough for real attention to be paid to the details of what it’s like to fly. Film critics will judge Up in the Air based on its cinematography and appeal, and I predict it will be a bona fide critical and audience darling. Fair enough—but it’s also fair for us to judge the movie based on the lives and times of actual frequent fliers.
To log his 10 millionth frequent-flyer mile, Bingham embarks on a complicated six-day, eight-city trip during which he juggles business, family matters and a love affair. He deals with absent car rental upgrades, a stay at a hotel where he’s not a member of the elite program, talkative seatmates, a not-especially-believable airline captain who (spoiler alert!) awards Bingham his coveted 10 millionth mile while flying over Dubuque, Iowa—and a few commercial plugs from the likes of American Airlines, Hilton HHonors and Hertz’s #1 Gold Club.
Let me make one thing clear to my fellow flyers who will flock to see this film: In the hopes of identifying with the nuances of elite cards, pursuit of miles and “That’s me!” moments, you may be missing some very good entertainment. So, see it once for yourself and see it again for the story line because this one will surely have the Oscar buzz! But beyond the Clooney factor, the miles, the identification of the road warrior and the theme that no man is—or at least no man should be—an island, the true stars of this film might be the real-life interviewees who have lost their jobs. That element of the story will surely strike a chord with sympathetic audiences.
Is the movie real? Well, Director Jason Reitman told me that two years ago, he did a mileage run in December from Los Angeles to Chicago just to requalify for elite with United. He bought a Gino’s pizza right there in the airport, then flew directly back. That’s real enough for me—he knows the game.
Rating: Five upgrades.
As to the “product placement” of American, Hilton and Hertz: American does well, they seem to over promote the Concierge Key program which really does exist — but is invitation only so don’t get any ideas. The overall images of American in the movie are positive. Rating A.
As for Hilton, the hotels look fine, the hotel bar where the pickup scene is truly Hilton and of course the pillow that George Clooney is leaning on and the robe that co-star Vera Farmiga half wears is truly Hilton style (haven’t seen those items listed on eBay yet.). But, in a scene where Mr. Clooney overhypes the ability for HHonors members to go to the head of the checkin line, well let’s say that may be true but the way it was portrayed in the movie was a bit arrogant and wanted to make me go back to being a regular member, not to be seen elitist. Could have been written in with a little less pompous so will have to write them down to a rating of B-.
As to Hertz #1 Club Gold. Well, let’s say that in rating their part in the movie from one to five, I’d give it a 2, as in “2 many mentions of Hertz #1 Club Gold.”. Entirely too commercial and this is a weakness on the part of the director Jason Reitman to let some of the commercial interests write their own parts into the script. One of the most cringing parts of the movie from the eyes of the road warrior is when Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) returns to Chicago unsuspectingly to surprise his elite status loving love interest and uses the Hertz #1 Club Gold. He appears to use the service but yet when driving away from the Hertz lot in the snow, the Hertz rental agent in the lot raises his clipboard and yells “You forgot to give me your Hertz #1 Club Gold card number.” I wanted to stand up and yell, “It’s in the members rez profile dummy, how do you expect he was able to use the #1 Club anyway.” Well, to the delight of the actual film critics, I didn’t. Too bad there isn’t a real car rental company named “Maestro.” (see the movie and you’ll get that joke). Hertz, you actually are number one, as in one out of five for your part in the movie … Rating D+.
As mentioned, we easily adopt Jason Reitman, the director of the movie as a fellow frequent flyer. About the only criticism we have (love the opening music by the Dap Kings) is that in all his flying time (about 100,000 miles annually), has he really paid attention to who flies these planes? I know, Hollywood can be tight and as such, he likely casts Sam Elliott because he’s worked with him in Thank You for Smoking. But Sam Elliott wearing the uniform of an American Airlines pilot awarding Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) his ten-millionth frequent flyer mile is just a little too close to the parachute ripcord. Sure, I know that American is located in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and there is certainly a history of the old west there, but please, Sam Elliott (and I like him for his cowboy dude roles) is not pilot material. The only real miscast part of the whole movie.
There is a very positive effect that will come out of this movie and I’ll refer to it as the Clooney Connection. Many of the more traveled frequent flyers who amass the miles and the mileage runs have often suffered as fools in the eyes of significant others or distant employees and even family members in the role of “I don’t get it.” Now that we have Mr. Box Office, George Clooney, playing the role of a miles obsessed man traveling with the goal of achieving his 10,000,000th frequent flyer mile, how hard do you think it will be to simply refer to Mr. Clooney when he stands up to collect an Oscar for this movie. Seriously, when you tell your wife or others that George Clooney is playing you as a road warrior in this movie (forget the rest of his sins), you’ll never ever have to plea for a kitchen pass for a mileage run or answer the question about seeking frequent flyer miles again. What’s good for George Clooney (more miles) is good for us all. Frankly, I was going to suggest that he play the part of me if they ever did a movie about frequent flyer miles anyway.
Notable quotes from the movie:
Do you want cancer? (do you want the can, sir?)
Everyone needs a co-pilot
To know me is to fly with me
What’s in your backpack
I have a number in mind and I haven’t hit it yet
Nothing cheap about loyalty
322 Days on the road, 43 miserable days at home
Where are you from?