Up in the Air (2009)
Director: Jason Reitman
Plot: With a job that has him traveling around the country firing people, Ryan Bingham leads an empty life out of a suitcase, until his company does the unexpected: ground him.
Awards: Nom. for 6 Oscars - best picture, director, lead actor, sup. actress (x2), adapted screenplay.
Rating: PG for language and some sexual content.
Jason Reitman takes a potentially dull concept of a man who fires people for a living, and transforms it into an uplifting picture that strikes an emotional chord with viewers. Up in the Air is only the third feature film by Reitman, but he has now established himself as one of America’s most effective directors of the last decade to explore the intimate connections in human relationships. Nominated for two directing Oscars for Juno (2007) and this film, Reitman has been admirably consistent since his excellent debut in Thank You for Smoking (2005).
Based on the novel by Walter Kirn, Up in the Air stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a man who travels all over the US to tell (hardworking and loyal employees) that their companies do not want them anymore. Ryan is always alone and on the move. He spends most of his time “up in the air” and never has a single address. Despite all this, he is happy with his life.
His life changes for the better (or worse) when two women enter his life: Natalie (Anna Kendrick) is a young and bright woman, who joins Ryan’s company and proposes the use of new media i.e. live video chat to fire people so as to save time and money, thus challenging Ryan’s humanist policy to fire people in person to protect their dignity and offer a human touch. Alex (Vera Farmiga), a frequent flyer herself, is a gorgeous woman in her early forties who meets Ryan in a bar and gets into a “romantic fling” with him.
Up in the Air is a comedy-drama with moments of ingenious scriptwriting that has a lot of heart. Reitman balances hilarious situations with serious dramatic fare and concocts a winning formula that will most definitely appeal to a wide audience. The strong performances by Clooney, Kendrick, and Farmiga (all Oscar-nominated here) give weight to their well-developed characters. The film also features an excellently-edited first quarter when Reitman alternates shots of Ryan graciously firing employees with fascinating patterns of airport procedural as if observing a precise clockwork mechanism suggesting a symbiotic relationship between Ryan and airport.
The main takeaway from this film is its feel-good ability to remind us to be content with our lives even when situations are bleak. Using the recent “economic depression” as the backdrop, Reitman emphasizes on the importance of human connectedness in this increasingly “(dis)connected world” best represented by the avalanche of social media and mediated communication technologies. Up in the Air is one of the most relevant films of the past few years to dwell on communication (or the lack thereof) and its far-reaching consequences in shaping the lives of others and most reflectively, of our own. A solid contender for the Best Picture crown.
GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)
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