Hey, friends. Barbarella here feeling nostalgic after soaring through AIR, the latest Ben Affleck/Matt Damon collaboration. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the story of Nike’s courtship with Michael Jordan. On the one hand, I love a behind-the-scenes story. I’ve become somewhat fascinated with everything from sports documentaries to band break-up shows to dramatizations of true stories, and AIR basically hits all the buttons that delight me. On the other hand, I know how this is going to end, so there’s no real element of surprise. I mean, it’d be difficult to find anyone who doesn’t know the outcome of this story, but like the journey of life, the destination matters far less than getting there, and AIR gets there in style, retro-style, that is. Chock full of everything 80’s, the film offers both nostalgia and an energy almost too great for a story about a struggling corporation, yet it works and works incredibly well.
The opening sets the tone perfectly by transporting viewers to a decade marked by bright colors, crazy ad slogans, and energetic music. For those who lived through the 1980’s, something in the opening will spark nostalgia. For those who didn’t, the opening includes a broad sample of fads and trends from the decade for you to discover. AIR also manages to keep the energy high by sliding 80’s music and memorabilia into most transitions so one never forgets the era in which this story occurs. This also serves to make the movie feel more action-packed than it really is. With so many great songs included, I cannot overstate how badly I want the soundtrack. For anyone longing to return to the 1980’s or even anyone born too late and who’s only heard the stories, this movie takes you back in time. Rubik’s cubes, Jane Fonda workouts, questionable fashion choices, “Where’s the beef?” ads; they’re all present, and they make AIR that much more enjoyable.
Beyond this fun and nostalgic immersion into a decade that many will recall fondly, AIR also relies on its incredible cast to sell the story. I enjoy all the performances and the memorable characters the cast portrays. I find it interesting that the only character who proves not memorable is Michael Jordan, himself, who is little more than set dressing when he appears. This is a movie about Nike, not the basketball legend, and Alex Convery’s screenplay, along with Ben Affleck’s direction, makes sure you get that.
While the performances are all effective, I have my favorites. Viola Davis once again nails her portrayal of a smart and protective mom who only wants the best for her son, athlete Michael Jordan. Jason Bateman hits the mark as the family man who’s struggling in his middle-management position at the potentially dying company. Yet it’s Matt Damon as the visionary whom I appreciate the most. I feel every setback, every hint of doubt and despair, every ounce of fear radiating from him, but also, I feel the hope and belief that drives him past the doubt and into action. He is a gambler, and like a true gambler, he understands both the highs and the lows and chooses to take the risks knowing that there are no guarantees.
While his portrayal of Sonny proves my favorite in AIR, I relish every moment Chris Messina appears on screen. He slays as the agent who makes Entourage’s Ari Gold seem like a teddy bear. The way he takes insults to a whole new level causes me to laugh out loud at their utter impertinence. Having had no experience with agents in either sports or Hollywood, I do find myself wondering how accurate this depiction can be. In fact, I wonder about the accuracy of a lot of the story. I mean, the jogging outfit Nike’s CEO wears, I know is accurate. Did Michael Jordan really hate Nike that much? I have no idea. What I do know is that this movie exceeded my expectations. I laughed, tapped my foot to the tunes, rooted for the underdog, and I left the theater feeling energized.
AIR is now in theaters.
Check out the trailer.