Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Up in the Air

I went to see the new Jason Reitman film, Up in the Air, last weekend.  And I liked it, even though the story is a bit of a downer in this economy.  After all, watching Ryan Bingham, George Clooney’s character, fly around the country firing people isn’t very uplifting when people all around me have been fired in real life.  But it wasn’t as hard to watch as I expected.   And, after all, if you are going to be fired, you might as well be fired by someone who looks like George Clooney and who has as nice a manner as the Ryan Bingham character.

It’s a very timely story, not only because of the current economic times.  It also explores the use of technology.   Breaking up by texting.  Quitting a job by e-mail.  Firing someone on a teleconference.   Technology is good, but some blows need to be softened by delivering the message in person.  On the other hand, unexpected blows are still unexpected blows even if you receive them in person.

And there is really great male-female role reversal in this film.

I wasn’t familiar with the novel, written by Walter Kirn.  According to Kirn it got good reviews and was selling well for a brief time and then … 9/11 happened.  Nobody wanted to read a novel about flying.   Kirn says he never expected a movie of the novel to get made.   But it did.  And it’s good.

But, let’s face it.  I wanted to see George Clooney and I was hoping it was a decent story but I was really there to watch locations.  And to see if I recognized any extras.   The movie was filmed here in St. Louis for a couple of months last spring.  We don’t get that many movies filming here so we aren’t jaded enough to complain about the inconvenience.  We were excited.   But we are also midwestern and polite.  So we didn’t let our excitement interfere with any of the filming.  That would have been rude.

There were George Clooney sightings reported all over town.   I never saw him.  But my sister AB did and so did my cousin MM.  In fact, AB and MM saw George at the same location, outside the little church in Maplewood where the wedding scene was filmed.  Each of them was so excited to see George in person that they didn’t even notice that the other one was there too, standing only a few feet away, until they compared notes later.  My cousin MM actually shook George’s  hand.   Sometimes, if we are really nice, she’ll let us touch that hand.   

We all wondered why they chose that church as a location.  St. Louis has  a lot of churches and many of them are quite lovely.  That one isn’t.  It’s boxy and plain and drab colored.  The day they filmed was a sunny spring day and it was pretty warm.  But there was fake snow everywhere and all the actors had to look cold.

When AB and I went to see the movie, we realized that in the film the church was supposed to be in northern Wisconsin and AB, who lived in Wisconsin for a while, said it all now made sense.  Because it did look like the kind of church you would find in northern Wisconsin.

My friend MZ was actually an extra in the movie, in the wedding scene filmed inside the church.  The casting company was looking for an organist and called a mutual friend who is one of the best organists in the country.  He was pretty excited that they called until it turned out they wanted a woman organist and only wanted him to recommend someone.  So he recommended MZ.  

MZ had some pretty good stories.  The movie people asked her what she usually wore to play the organ and she said she usually wore something black (to fit in with the choir).   Oh no, they said.  No black.  What else would you wear, they asked?   Well, she said.  Sometimes I wear white.    No.  No white either, they said.  We want something floral.  MZ didn’t own anything floral but she went out shopping and found a dress.  On the day of shooting she actually played the organ.   In the movie you see her playing.   Well, actually they only show her hands but WE knew it was her.   And the thing is, you have no idea what she’s wearing.

MZ told us that for the wedding scene the casting people wanted to pick extras who in real life actually DID the things that they would be doing in the movie.   They chose a woman who is actually a wedding planner and had her run around organizing things.   She was the wedding planner one of my colleagues recently used to help with her daughter’s wedding.  I’ve never met her and, truthfully, I forgot to look for anyone doing “wedding planner” things.   Maybe I’ll have to go back and see it again with someone who knows her.

My best friend, H, works in an office building downtown and she called me one day to tell me that they were shooting in the plaza outside her building and there had been “George” sightings.   She never actually saw him.  But I recognized the building in the movie. 

We were told that one reason they chose St. Louis is because they wanted a city that could be “every” city.   And we really do have diverse architecture.  So when George was supposed to be in Chicago he was really knocking on the door of a house in Lafayette Square here.  And let’s face it, nondescript office buildings are … nondescript.   They can be anywhere.   We have a lot of those. 

We were also told that they chose St. Louis because there were going to be lots of scenes in airports and after American Airlines moved its hub out of here … well, let’s just say we have a lot of empty airport to rent out.    It was actually a little annoying to see how nice they were to American Airlines in the movie.  Loyalty.  meh.

After the movie was over AB and I talked about how a lot of the scenes in the aiport weren’t in the empty concourses but were in the main parts of the airport.  They used all four security checkpoints – to make it look like they were in different airports.   I think they used all the entrances too. 

We watched the credits all the way through to the end.  After all, we the taxpayers of Missouri gave them a lot of incentives to come film here, we might as well see our “thank you”.  There were a lot of thank you’s.  Most you would expect – the State, the City, the Airport Authority.   And the St. Louis Blues hockey team.    The Blues?   Neither of us could remember seeing any hockey in the movie.   I wonder what they did?