TL;DR: A groom on his wedding day cowers terrified before the enduring, towering thoughts of the rest of his life as a married man, a potential father, grandfather and unavoidably an eventual dead man. Initially, he’s stricken with cold-feet but considering the alternative of being alone (potentially forever) he returns to the service. “Up in the Air” is a jet-setting story about the value we place on our freedom as individuals with next to no film-making turbulence, plane and simple.
With the emotional yet funny “Juno” being the only other film of Jason Reitman’s work that I’d seen I had reasonably high hopes for “Up in the Air”. Ryan Bingham (Clooney) works a niche job probably more publicly despised than tax collectors; he’s a professional personnel terminator a.k.a Bingham fires people for a living. Bosses America-wide are too scared of confronting their long time employees so Bingham’s employers whisk him around for over 300 days a year doing their dirty work. He’s good though, a renowned public speaker on the importance of avoiding tying oneself down, Bingham is able to highlight the positives and opportunities in losing a job with a tactile yet professional face-to-face manner.
That’s until Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a young high-flyer fresh out of college, revolutionises the company by proposing to ground Bingham and his fellow fuel-guzzling termination agents and create a Skype-like digital firing squad. Ironically, this would leave Bingham out of a job, something he wouldn’t be too happy about especially as he’s come to like this lone wolf lifestyle as he nears his life-time goal of 15 million Airmiles and his name on a plane. Meanwhile, whilst Bingham teaches Natalie how firing people in person is more humane, Bingham engages in a saucy hotels-only relationship with another jet setter and behind all this his sister (played by Melanie Lynsky or Rose from Two and a Half men) is about to be wed. There’s definitely a lot going on in this film and thankfully it never feels cluttered partly due to the plane journeys themselves and their accompanying overhead cityscapes and titles acting as location- and thereby act/plot markers.
George Clooney is great as the lead man with his suave smooth talking he really looks like someone who’d fly across the country just to fire you though could do with releasing himself into the role a little more. This time though, Anna Kendrick is the shining light, she pulls off the ambitious grad looking to make an impact with ease and is great to watch. Her comedic timing (especially during the boat party) and emotive face is exposed magnificently through dialogue that cuts through Clooney’s no-frills character, right to the core of the film’s message.
But what might the message be? Well, there’s a few in my opinion that all end in a similar argument to Sean Penn’s “Into the wild”; an event shared is infinitely better than if it were spent alone. Clooney’s character struggles with commitment, opting for a lighter free-roaming lifestyle that even escapes contact with his own family because this is how he feels safest. He has an apartment but he’s really a rich homeless man; his work is his life even more so than the poor people who he fires who still have families to go back to. In contrast, Kendrick’s character is only in her early twenties yet craves a relationship enough to follow a boy across the country into a job she isn’t suited for. “Wouldn’t you just like someone to talk to?” asks Natalie, “I’ve got hundreds of people all around me I could talk to” says Jack, in an airport. Slowly, the two characters unfurl one another’s guard, trying to expose and dissect our instinctive human need for interaction.
Above all, “Up in the Air” is a superb example of what modern “mainstream” cinema should be. This film is a success because: we look into the world of an interesting person that isn’t too far from reality not to be believable, the film doesn’t stray from its foundations nor overly delve into its message and become too schmaltzy and the screen-writing is hilarious enough to carry heavy themes subtly into an uplifting, enjoyable and classy dramedy.
A real high-flyer, 8.4/10.