By Don Simpson | November 16, 2009
Director: Jason Reitman
Writer(s): Walter Kirn (novel) Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner (screenplay)
Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Danny McBride
Very loosely based on Walter Kim’s 2001 novel Up in the Air, the protagonist of Reitman’s film Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a career transition counselor; in other words, corporations hire him to fire their staff. The position not only requires an emotionless cold as ice personality but it also requires a lot of travel – thus Ryan spends a majority of his life up in the air, and is quickly approaching a milestone of ten million frequent flyer miles with American Airlines (a landmark reached by only six others in the history of aviation).
Ryan relishes his relationship-free life – estranged from his family and with no friends or significant other to hold him down (the condo he owns, yet rarely frequents, looks more like another hotel room than a person’s home)…that is until he meets Alex (Vera Farmiga). Alex maintains an eerily similar lifestyle to Ryan (as Alex points out, she is like Ryan except with a vagina).
Somehow by meeting his personality twin, Ryan opts to eschew his old ways. Ryan’s burgeoning relationship with Alex coincides with his younger sister Julie’s (Melanie Lynskey) wedding – which prompts Ryan to also rekindle his relationship with his family. And that’s not all – Ryan also abandons his subsidiary career as a motivational speaker (his presentations are about emptying your proverbial suitcase by adopting a relationship-free life). All in all, Ryan is prepared to change his life philosophy, make a commitment and settle down. The question remains: does the woman he’s doing this for (Alex) feel the same way?
Anna Kendrick plays Natalie – the unfortunate “new guy” who trains with Ryan – with the princessness of an upper crust sorority girl; that is until she, like Ryan, begins to transform into someone much more human. Jason Bateman is enjoyable, as usual, as Ryan’s boss. Danny McBride is Julie’s low-class (McBride’s specialty) husband-to-be Jim.
Up in the Air effortlessly juggles critiques of: corporate downsizing, modern humans becoming antisocial beings (thanks to technological innovations – from the telephone to the internet), and the absurdity of frequent customer (such as frequent flyer) rewards. Basically, Up in the Air is a rom-com with a clever social and political commentary built-in; though I’m not sure how comedic or clever this will seem to people who have been downsized.
I do question whether someone like Ryan would (and could) actually transform his life as quickly as Ryan does – and whether someone so similar to Ryan (such as Alex) would (and could) prompt such a change. I’m also not sure that I find Alex’s dualistic personality convincing – her secret side seems too forced and contrived (and predictable).