Up in the Air (2009)
Rated – R
Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman
In his third feature film as a director, Jason Reitman really hits his stride in the not-too-light, not-too-heavy, Up in the Air. This movie simply is ‘just right.’
The movie opens up with a number of business employees that have just been let go by their company. Some are real people and some are actors. I couldn’t tell the difference. They were all distraught and on the verge of tears as their world was falling right in front of them.
And that’s when we meet Ryan Bingham (Clooney). He’s a corporate hit man who informs people that they’ve been let go when managers and executives are too afraid to do so themselves. This also means that Bingham has to travel around the country… a lot. We are shown the daily routine of his life as he nonchalantly walks through the airport while others are running. He checks in with ease and knows all the tricks to save time. That’s what happens when you spend 322 days on the road a year.
This isn’t a job for most people, but for Bingham this is his ideal situation. He enjoys being on the move constantly. He’s comfortable without allowing anyone else close to him. In addition to his care-free lifestyle, he’s a motivational speaker famous for his “What’s in Your Backpack” speech, where he expresses carrying the minimum amount of baggage possible by avoiding commitment and leaving everything behind while constantly moving forward. It’s the life he lives and he’s more than content with it.
That is until he meets two women. First he meets the female version of himself in Alex (Farmiga). Their frequent flying lifestyle and the exhilaration of a casual relationship keeps them marking their calendars for the next one-night stand. As Alex puts it, “Just think of me as yourself, but with a vagina.” This, in all ways, intrigues Bingham further than anyone has before.
The other woman who affects Bingham is a 23-year-old whipper-snapper, Natalie Keener (Kendrick). Natalie has an idea to cut the costs of air-travel and room expenses by taking everyone off the road and have the firings be done via video conferencing. Bingham and Natalie’s boss (Bateman) loves the idea. To get her acquainted with the procedure, Bingham is forced to take Natalie on the road with him to ‘show her the ropes.’ The clash between the uptight and professional Natalie with the smooth, ‘go with the flow’ Bingham serves up many laughs along the way.
It’s a splendid showcase of talent in front of and behind the camera throughout the movie. What is and will make this film an absolute success with critics and the public is how timely and personal the issues and situations are. From the rough economic times resulting in lay-offs to the inner struggle we have to cure loneliness and to commit to another person… Up in the Air has it all (and remarkably in under two hours).
George Clooney is pitch perfect as Ryan Bingham. He’s convincing as the loose businessman who goes through a revelation of self-improvement when he allows true feelings to interfere with his preaching. Vera Farmiga is lovely and playful as Alex. She reels you in with her smile and then you get lost in her web of excitement. And last but not least is Anna Kendrick who is just as outstanding as she is hilarious when she opposes Clooney’s every step. She is his disapproving shadow that argues with all his morals, or lack there of.
There are a lot of plot points that constantly change the tone of the film. Whether they crash a party, attend a wedding, fire employees, or share personal experiences, the emotional roller-coaster is always fluctuating. The genius of Reitman is how he combines the elements of intelligence and reality into mainstream films while avoiding sappy Hollywood endings. That is not easily done. Expect many more great films from this young director.