Up In The Air
Directed by Jason Reitman
Released in 2009
Some films need dazzling special effects to transport you to its world. Up In The Air does not because it takes place in our world. The joy and hilarity of everyday life is countered by the toil and crushing realization that each day is a step closer to the grave. Looming overhead all of this is the morose economic climate of today's world filled with unemployment and depression. No movie this year filled me with such distinct laughs or profound emotional awareness, often in a single scene.
The ironic thing was that I was ready to hate on this movie from the get-go. Jason Reitman, the director, has never been on my good side. Thank You For Smoking had its moments but Juno was one of the most overrated films of the decade. With the latter's case, however, I have come to conclude that all the blame rests on the swaying hips of Diablo Cody, who somehow won the Oscar for Best Screenplay for that movie and then churned out the abysmal Jennifer's Body. Reitman, on the other hand, is a pillar of talent, shown by his directing, writing (along with Sheldon Turner) and producing of Up In The Air. He will garner a sweep of awards during Oscar season and deservedly so. After seeing this film I wondered why the hell he did not write Juno; underneath the grating dialogue was a sound tale that could have been even better.
Nonetheless, Up In The Air will hit close to home for many. It does not hide its recession-era setting: job loss, financial troubles and even suicide are general themes. However, this film is a great comedy with romantic elements; labeling anything of this caliber a "romantic comedy" is a disservice. George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a white collar man who fires people for a living. He spends 270 days of the year away from home, he does not have a wife nor ever wants one and has a secret desire to reach 10 million frequent flier miles, a feat that he would be the 7th in the world to reach. His conservative approach is foiled when the young Cornell grad Natalie Keener (performed by Anna Kendrick) proposes the idea of digitizing the firing work method through computers, making Bingham's job obsolete. She is supported by the boss (Jason Bateman in an unlikable character that you still love) but, to make things interesting, he has her tow along with Bingham to see if his method is still efficient. Along the way, he runs into Vera Farmiga's character, Alex Goran, who somehow is an exact replica of himself but, as she says, "with a vagina." They fall for each other but in their own, mutually detached way. Bingham finds marriage pointless, at least at the outset....
The acting is probably the best ensemble cast of the year, with George Clooney leading in his best performance yet. A confident, energetic man grows increasingly insecure as loneliness and age slowly pervade his core. He is able to fire people with a grace that he declares is better than anyone else yet cannot confront his estranged family. The two female leads in this film are also excellent, Kendrick and Farmiga. Anna Kendrick has been known from the Twilight films but she redeems herself in this fantastic role. She comes across as a spoiled brat at first but slowly loosens up as she realizes what is truly important in life. Meanwhile, Vera Farmiga, who was fantastic in The Departed, brings her sexy, seductive allure to yet another role, her finest yet. Alex is the same as Ryan in their "philosophy" of life. This thought process revolves around a certain obsession over "elite access" that their frequent flying compensates and an outright disdain for commitment. I dare not spoil any of the story but a few events in this film really hit you hard in the gut. I am not kidding when I felt a physical, internal reaction after a certain scene. That in itself is a feat of emotional storytelling.
Of course, Up In The Air is a comedy in a sense as well. There are many laughs to be had and they perfectly compensate some of the gloomier scenes. Danny McBride is the future brother-in-law for Ryan Bingham and he naturally exudes humor. Zach Galifianakis makes a cameo in the beginning as an example of an enraged employee who gets fired. His tantrums prove entertaining, if pathetic. The main characters themselves banter, stereotype and bicker, all of which prove hilarious. This is all comes down to the fact that this screenplay is of the highest caliber. Usually movies that are written well express it through their actors but this one is different: you feel the greatness of the actor's performances as well as the supremacy of the script coexist, one from another. You will leave the theater thinking of the impact this film made on you in both its performances and its superb writing, an extremely rare achievement. The characters do not speak in elevated, unrealistic manners but in a plausible fashion, though we certainly wish we had the suaveness of Mr. Clooney in oratory. A touching, and somewhat biting, scene in which Bingham and Keener fire J.K. Simmons' character, Bob, shows the quality of all the aspects of this film at once. He shows pictures of his two children to the two and asks what can be done with them. Keener intervenes for she feels that she, a newbie at the time, can take on these tough situations. Bob tears her apart as she, not purposely, insults him. However, Bingham shows his expertise as he cools the situation off by encouraging Bob to follow his dreams, using plenty of amusing analogies all the way. The full effect is reserved for the film itself but even after recollecting the scene in my memory I recalled its brilliance. For Film Writing 101, there is no better current example to analyze than this film.
Up In The Air, as you can tell by now, is a superb film. The directing, acting and stellar screenplay all combine to create one of the funniest yet poignant cinematic experiences in recent memory. This film crept up and surprised me. It surprised me that I was regaled and hurt at the same time. It surprised me that Jason Reitman, a director I had no interest in before, created the movie for our current time. Hey, it surprised me that Sam Elliott appeared, in full mustachioed form, in an appealing cameo. But, most of all, it surprised me that Up In The Air's slow takeoff ascended to such a smooth, personal ride. I felt like I knew more about myself after watching this and, for that reason, I never wanted to touch ground.
5 Stars Out of 5