Up In The Air
January 7, 2010 by Zack
Some people have a fear of flying. Some people just have motion sickness. A lot of people hate flying in general. For Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), he not only likes it–he “loves everything you hate about it”. Where is home? Home is here, he says while on a plane. Bingham has loyalty through his airline. He gets gold cards, member rewards, and lots and lots of flight miles. His goal? To reach a certain number of flight miles. He is unmarried, and has no children. And as for his job? He fires people.
But along the way, he is paired with an ambitious cute young girl named Natalie Keener, who has an idea that Ryan’s boss likes–localizing the job and severing their travel habits. Video conferencing is the proposed new wave of going about firing people (which they call, “giving new opportunities”). It would cut costs and corporate loves it. But Ryan doesn’t. He believes it’s better to fire someone face to face, when you have to look them in the eyes and they’re in the room with you. In order for Keener to more understand Ryan’s position, his boss (played by Jason Bateman) thinks it’s a good idea for her to tagalong with him, and be his apprentice. Of course Ryan doesn’t like this idea–but this doesn’t exactly turn into some kind of buddy picture.
The two want different lifestyles, but both come to appreciate each other’s. Keener wants a married life with kids, a home, someplace to settle down. Ryan wants to live care free and unattached to anyone or anything. Things get complicated when he begins a fling with another traveler, Alex (played by Vera Farmiga). Things develop and he wants to bring her into his life.
But life doesn’t always work out the way we want it to, and Ryan finds that out the hard way.
The film isn’t really about the lifestyles of travelers or about how a man can live with himself by making a living firing others. It’s really about the detachment and the irony of how a man who has a “loyalty” to something so frivolous and wandering as an airline-to-airline lifestyle. His relationships to others are just as empty, and he pays the price for these save a few examples that actually hindered the theme a bit, in my opinion.
The biggest example is his relationships to his sisters. He has to attend his youngest sister’s wedding and save the wedding as well, by talking the groom-to-be out of having cold feet. Bingham is set up to be a motivational speaker–however, his motivational speech revolves around carrying an “empty backpack” (being a loner, going through life alone and appreciating it). So clearly he has to change his pitch a bit. Something about throwing this into the film didn’t work for me. It seemed to complicate things a bit and was unnecessary. We don’t know enough about his family situation to know how much it would mean for him to be there for them. And by this point we already get that he’s in over his head when it comes to intimately helping someone.
For the most part, however, the film works well. I appreciated how it started as a somewhat funny and charming romantic comedy and becomes a bit darker and more honest toward the end. Director Jason Reitman has shown he has a knack for narrative and pace, and he allows his characters to breathe and live in scenes without dragging down the pace of the film.
The performances are also strong, but the strongest is Anna Kendrick’s as Natalie. Clooney delivers another good performance. And the lifestyle he lives in the film just seems so close to his lifestyle in real life, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for him to slip into this role and completely own it.
Something still seemed to be missing at the end of the film, the way it wrapped up. The theme is there, and there is enough to draw conclusions on what the purpose was and what the filmmakers were trying to say. But there was some fat around the edges that could have been trimmed. It didn’t weigh the film down, per se, but it didn’t make it a completely smooth flight, either.
Sorry. I had to get at least one airplane pun in there. Be glad it was only one.