Movie Review: Up in the Air
- Tuesday, December 29, 2009
I got an e-mail from a marketing company this past week offering two passes to see Up in the Air, the new George Clooney movie on Thursday. I took my wife and we stood in line before the appointed time-about thirty minutes since it was a first come, first served basis. The line was mostly people over 30, sometimes well over thirty so I wondered if the targeted demographic wanted to reach out beyond the youth demographic, the standard bullseye of most movie marketing for this kind of movie. The film, made by someone not far above that college age range, Jason Reitman, is his third, after the satirical Thank-You for Smoking, and last years wonderful Juno. This kid, son of comedy director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters), got his dad's talent plus a whole lot more savvy at capturing the secrets of the human soul. Up in the Air is his most impressive film to date-at this rate, I wonder where he'll be in ten years.
The film's lead character, Ryan Bingham, flies all over corporate America, hired by cowardly bosses to do their firing and laying off. Bingham is smooth and in control at all times, but the real secret of his success is that he has the gift of sensing just the right thing to say to ease the shocked ex-employee into seeing this not as an end but as a chance for a new beginning, and then he hands them their severance packet and tells them they'll be called later to follow up on their "transitioning." Ryan spends more than 300 days a year in the air, happy to be above the entanglements of both things and people. His commitment-free lifestyle allows him to make casual hookups with a like-minded lady business traveler, Alex (Vera Farmiga). His purpose driven life is to acquire a magic number of frequent flyer miles and he's getting close to this arbitrary goal.
Then he learns that a fresh-out-college new hire Natalie (Anna Kendrick) at his company has sold the management a new plan on doing the same job he does by traveling to the companies over internet teleconferences, a cost-saving, "efficient" means of severing employees. Free spirit Ryan sees this not just as a coldhearted way to do a difficult job, but an attack on his independence from everything and everyone. The prospect of being tethered to a monitor and headset angers him enough for him to convince his boss to let me take the newbie Natalie on the road to show her what she doesn't know about the people she'd fire by remote control. Therein unfolds the gradual unsettling of a complacent floating island of a man as life eventually forces him to question whether travel connections are the only ones that matter.
I won't get into any more plot points-but I highly recommend it. One of the genius moves by the young director was to film the interviews of people recently laid off in the recession and get them to relate the traumatic experiences on camera. As this NPR article recounts, these were then edited into the montage of severance interviews Bingham conducts throughout the movie giving the film an authenticity no screenwriter could concoct. This is about as timely a feature film as I have seen.
Up in the Air is rated R for some rough language and brief nudity but for most audiences that would be interested-like those in the line that laughed loudly during the screening-they will find this a very good Hollywood movie that reminds us that anyone who thinks he can float above the messiness of real life attachments is likely to face some real turbulence.
Posted by: Alex Wainer
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