UP IN THE AIR ****
Everyone comes to their own personal existential crossroad eventually.
RYAN BINGHAM (GEORGE CLOONEY) is all ready there. He just doesn’t know it yet.
Ryan is a corporate downsizing specialist. Otherwise known as a hatchet man. He spends nearly 300 days a year crisscrossing the country on various planes.
His mission: to inform unfortunate individuals that they are no longer needed at their particular places of employment.
Ryan is hardly the introspective type. It has nothing to do with being cruel or insensitive. But he knows that someone has to do this for a living. It might as well be him. He is performing a necessary (though entirely unheralded) service.
He lives a simple, elegant, minimalistic lifestyle. No commitments. No responsibilities. No obligations. He’s not even close to his own family.
Well into his forties, Ryan is gorgeous, persuasive, charming and always up for a good time. He has never had the slightest desire to modify his goals. He’s happy doing exactly what he does best.
What genuinely delights him is the mobility and freedom his professional standing affords him. He’s never at home and he’s constantly on his way to somewhere else.
All relationships are automatically casual. Everything is breezy and light. There is no thought given to tomorrow. It’s just business as usual. The sun will come up. Then there will be more of the same.
The film begins with a good natured edgy hip hop version of THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND. Big changes are just around the corner for our cool unruffled protagonist.
Ryan has always gotten along well with his boss CRAIG GREGORY (JASON BATEMAN).
Craig is a bottom line kind of guy. He’s not one to mince words or to waste them. When someone presents him with an idea that would increase productivity, he’s on it immediately.
A whiz kid has caught his attention.
Hot shot college grad NATALIE KEENER (ANNA KENDRICK) has devised a scheme that Craig heartily approves of. Why should Ryan fly all over the continent firing people when he could dismiss employees permanently over teleconferencing software? He could do that from head office and the company could save a lot of money.
Needless to say, that is the very last thing Ryan wants. He protests vociferously. Craig agrees to let him take Natalie on the road and show her the ropes. Ryan isn’t crazy about that either. But there is not a lot of room for alternative improvising. So he reluctantly agrees.
In the midst of all this confusion, Ryan meets ALEX GORAN (VERA FARMIGA) at an airport lounge. She’s a bold female version of him.
Alex is also a driven executive with major air miles chalked up. She’s barely in one place for more than a few days at a time. Alex is sharp, experienced, sexually experimental. She’s always a few steps ahead of Ryan.
They sleep together immediately. When he hasn’t called her within the span of a couple of weeks, she contacts him. He likes the fact that she made the first move. But she reassures him anyway.
“I’m the woman you don’t have to worry about.”
“That sounds like a trap.”
It’s not. But this relationship will be the ultimate learning experience. It will be more – and less – than he ever imagined.
The turning point for this easygoing rogue has two interlocking chapters. His arrangement with Alex is deepening and becoming something else.
He had no reason to expect that. He likes spending time with her. The more he sees of her, the more he wants to be with her.
Ryan’s sister JULIE (MELANIE LYNSKEY) is getting married. Straight out of left field, Ryan asks Alex if she would like to accompany him to the wedding. She accepts.
While he’s there, Julie’s boyfriend gets the jitters. The groom to be decides that getting hitched would be a terrible mistake. He will not budge.
Julie is heartbroken. Family members tell Ryan that he has to convince him to walk down the aisle with her.
Ryan is carefree and perpetually uncommitted. He’s not the first person you’d think of for this particular task. For his sibling’s sake, Ryan takes a deep breath and pulls out all the stops.
His strategy works. But it seems to leave a particular effect on Ryan. Perhaps he’s been overestimating his satisfaction for many years.
Maybe there is something that he’s been missing.
UP IN THE AIR is based on the novel by WALTER KIRN.
This is only JASON REITMAN’S third full length feature. He is in his early 30s. How did he get to be such a sensitive, remarkably assured filmmaker at such an early age? He conveys so much authentic emotion with marvelous depth and poignancy.
MIKE NICHOLS did the same thing. HAL ASHBY also possessed similar ironic insights. But he did it on a smaller scale.
There are echoes of THE GRADUATE here. Certainly with the global outlook and people losing their jobs, this film arrived at the perfect time. It finds all the right notes in a spontaneously lyrical fashion.
Both the uncertain ending and the usage of evocative music are reminiscent of the 1967 classic. But JASON REITMAN hits the zeitgeist and rips it all to hell.
His wonderful script (cowritten with SHELDON TURNER) has some wickedly hilarious lines but easily illuminates the characters’ motivations and behaviour.
JASON BATEMAN and MELANIE LYNSKEY are very effective in small roles.
VERA FARMIGA is excellent. ALEX is a strong person who knows what she wants and goes after it. She also has powerfully enticing chemistry with GEORGE.
ANNA KENDRICK is less successful. NATALIE is so tightly wound that if you pulled on her long lustrous ponytail she’d yelp in fright. But she plays this young woman in exactly the same manner as her unpleasant character in ROCKET SCIENCE.
The movie is too well constructed for her to make a real dent in its glorious effectiveness. But it’s a blessed relief every time she’s off screen.
But the heart and soul of this fantastic film is most definitely GEORGE CLOONEY. He does something especially brilliant.
Like WARREN BEATTY in SHAMPOO, he portrays someone whose personality is identical to his image. As audience members and cinema aficionados, we think that RYAN BINGHAM is GEORGE CLOONEY.
What is the real man actually like? Only the people that are close to him are allowed that kind of information. That’s as it should be. He’s a film star. He’s certainly entitled to his privacy.
But we do imagine him as someone like RYAN. Then he takes that part, goes light years beyond it and makes it utterly transcendent. He shows aching vulnerabilities that he never has before. He was fabulous in MICHAEL CLAYTON.
But in this movie, he gives the most exquisitely full bodied, ballsy and bracingly emotional performance he ever has.
It’s something to see.
Nobody has limitless amounts of time. Seize the day before the sun sets.
It might be later than you think…