Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Up in the Air



Jason Reitman’s films remind me of a different era.  When I watch them, I can’t help think of the classic John Hughes films of the 80’s and 90’s, and perhaps that is because Reitman is able to mix comedy and drama so well.  It is impressive that after only three films he is already being compared to the likes of Billy Wilder. While I don’t think any of Reitman’s works have come close to Wilder’s masterpieces, I do feel Reitman has it in him to make a few such gems.  In fact, the consensus seems to be that Up in the Air is just that.

As I write this, the film has just been named the best of the year by both the National Board of Review and the Washington DC critics.  Usually when the ball gets rolling like this, it is close to unstoppable, much like Slumdog Millionaire last year. I enjoyed Up in the Air very much and it is one of my favorites of the year, but I definitely don’t have the same passion for it as most people who have seen it do.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a 35-yearold “career transition counselor”, who spends most of the year on the road.  His job title is just a professional way of saying Ryan is someone who is brought in to fire people, so that their bosses don’t have to face the reaction.  Ironically enough, the last movie I saw before this was The Messenger, in which the characters duty were to notify people that they had lost their loved ones in war.  If that is the most difficult job there is, then Bingham and his co-workers have the second-most difficult.

One man who is laid off in the film even says that he feels like his co-workers were his family, and that he was the one that died.  One of my favorite aspects of this film is how Reitman casted non-actors that had been fired in real life and used them in various montages. This story is obviously very timely with what has happened with the economy and the rise in unemployment over the last year.

Ryan’s life hits a bit of turbulence when his boss, Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) hires an aspiring new employee straight out of college named Natalie (Anna Kendrick). Natalie convinces Craig to go a different route with the company:  instead of having all the employees fly from place to place the entire year firing people, they will now begin to use video-conferencing technology to do the job.

This change hits Ryan hard, because he is used to the on-the-road life that he has been living.  He enjoys not having any weight on his shoulders pulling him down, or having too many responsibilities outside of his work.  He knows all the ins and outs of traveling, and it is routine for him by now.  He meets a lot of people but doesn’t truly know anyone.  He is so afraid of personal relationships and connections that he sighs in despair whenever he gets a call from a family member.

More turbulence in his routine appears in the form of a woman he meets named Alex (Vera Farmiga). They get along very well right off the bat, as she also travels most of the year and has a lot of the same interests and thoughts on life and traveling.  Ryan finds himself growing more fond of her as they spend more and more time together.

Up in the Air is as timely as film as I can recall.  Reitman has a very keen understanding of the culture and it always shows in his films, this one more so than the other two.  There are plenty of comedic scenes to go along with the important message of the story, which is primarily about the journey of Ryan and how he changes from beginning to end, which is not to say he becomes an entirely different person.

I must bring up the climax, which I will not spoil of course, but will say that it was the perfect climax for this story.  As the story progressed, it started to seem like it was heading down a very routine road, and I am happy this story took the more authentic route.  This climax and the back and forth between Clooney and Kendrick are the highlights of Up in the Air for me.

The two best words to describe this film are "timely" and "authentic".  Every viewer should be able to relate to at least one of the characters, or to one of the events that occur.  It’s not my favorite film of the year, but it is a fantastic work and I can see it winning awards from wire to wire.

4 1/2 / 5 stars

 

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