Up in the Air (2009)
Release Date: December 4th, 2009 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Jason Reitman Actors: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Danny McBride
p in the Air” takes its characters through an emotional and life-changing journey, one plentiful in laughs, loss, and revelations. But it’s difficult to determine the significance and satisfaction of the transformation as realism clouds the fantasy and sorrowful poignancy overwhelms the humor. Luckily, the cast is populated by a variety of actors so suited for their respective roles that the audience can easily relate or sympathize, even if the resolution doesn’t offer optimism towards love over new beginnings.
Ryan Bingham’s (George Clooney) job is to fire people from theirs. The anguish, hostility, and despair of his “clients” have left him falsely compassionate, living out of a suitcase, and loving every second of it. When his boss (Jason Bateman) hires arrogant young Natalie (Anna Kendrick), she develops a method of video conferencing that will allow termination without ever leaving the office – essentially threatening the job and existence Ryan so cherishes. Determined to show the naïve girl the error of her logic, Ryan takes her on one of his cross country firing expeditions. But as she starts to realize the disheartening realities of her profession, he begins to see the downfalls to his way of life.
There’s no question that the talented cast drives the film, but several supporting characters feel like a missed opportunity for laughter, considering their background in comedy and this film’s need to embrace lighter material to offset somberness. Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, and Danny McBride are all big names generally related to comic antics, but here none of them are used for comedy relief. The film provides plenty of wit with its intelligently written script, but extra laughs couldn’t have hurt. Even a cameo by Sam Elliott brings a smile due to his recognizable appearance – but his exchange with Clooney offers little amusement.
For Ryan, 322 days on the road traveling (up in the air) is his time at home – the other days of the year are spent miserably at his real residence, a tiny, lifeless apartment. The script magnificently captures the ironies of Bingham making a career out of firing others (a timely subject) caught suddenly in a situation that drastically changes his job. As he tells others that their position is no longer available, his own trade is quickly diminishing, being replaced by more cost effective means. The greatest metaphors take place later, in moments when he realizes he’s literally “out of the boat,” after his boss warns him of his hesitation to adapt.
Fueled by humorous, touching, careful, and poetic dialogue, the film manages an upbeat tone and entertaining outlook, even as it falls victim to the standard romantic comedy clichés. A strictly independent character learns to change his beliefs and views on loyalty, responsibility, and relationships, copes with mortality, and handles a pairing with an entirely opposite sidekick. It’s interesting to see that the leads are more mature, the protagonist maintains a post that would normally never receive sympathy, and that such an abundance of notable character actors frequent the picture. Like Spielberg’s “The Terminal,” with Ryan trapped traveling instead of confined to a single airport, “Up in the Air” is steadily entertaining thanks to George Clooney’s always watchable performance, a solid script full of wry motivational speaking, simulated hospitality and clever metaphors, sharp editing, and a fitting soundtrack.
– The Massie Twins