See This: Up in the Air (2009, Jason Reitman)

I hate to use the word "dramedy" to describe the brilliant film, Up in the Air, but that's what it is. One moment you're laughing your head off and the next your blinking away tears. George Clooney is superb as career-transition counselor Ryan Bingham. That's a fancy title for someone who flies in and fires half a corporation's workforce in one afternoon. The reactions of the people being fired -- some are actors, some are real people recounting their stories -- are mostly heartbreaking. I can't think of a recent film that so perfectly mirrors the time we're living in.

Ryan is in the air more than 300 days a year, and he calls airplane interiors home. He knows how to efficiently live out of one suitcase and he turns going through airport security into poetry. Ryan's dream is reach 10 million frequent flyer miles (and he's very close) and is elated when he's picked to give a talk at a Las Vegas career expo about how to reduce your life so you can live out of backpack. The message he gives during this lecture that the "slower we move, the faster we die," has become his motto. It's also soul-deadening, and has isolated Ryan from his family and everyone around him.

He's also got the art of firing people down to a science. He says the firing is not a tragedy, but an opportunity as he pushes a packet of information toward them. Ryan's voice is at once soothing and authorative in these canning sessions; when an employee freaks out, Ryan is calm and understanding.

On the road, Ryan meets Alex (the sexy Vera Farmiga), an executive who shares his desire for elite status and is also constantly on the road. They begin a casual relationship, synching up their laptop calendars to meet for sex when they happen to be in the same city or on a long layover. "Think of me as you, but with a vagina," she tells him. Things change when Ryan gets a call from his boss (a smarmy Jason Bateman) to return to company headquarters in Omaha for a meeting.

At the meeting, we're introduced to Natalie (Anna Kendrick in an Oscar-worthy role), a 23-year-old Ivy Leaguer who wants to save the company money and fire people more efficiently -- by computer conference. Ryan, threatened by the destruction of his lifestyle, and Natalie butt heads immediately, so he takes her on the road to show her that firing people is something that must be done face to face. Natalie looks like an ice queen, but once she's in America's heartland, seeing the reactions of people who have just lost their livelihoods, her cold exterior cracks wide open. When her fiance dumps her by text message, she unravels.

While this is happening, Ryan and Alex's relationship seems to be growing more affectionate. When he invites her to his younger sister's wedding in Minnesota, it's obvious Ryan is starting to question his single, lonely life in the air and perhaps Alex might be the one to become his "co-pilot" in life. I can't reveal the twists that happen after the wedding, but it's unexpected and leaves the film on a melancholy note. Jason Reitman (who directed the hit indie, Juno) gets this so, so right. There should be a boatload of Oscar nominations coming for this film and deservedly so.


Hey Collin- I loved this movie too, although the "twist ending" wasn't much of a suprise for me. That didn't matter, though. I thought the acting and script were superb. You are so right on that it's hard to think of a film that is more timely. I'm thinking of teaching it, coupled with The Grapes of Wrath, in my lit & film class in the spring.

Happy New Year, sweetie!
christine said…
I can't wait to see it. Great review–you're so right, it's a very timely theme. A lot of companies lay off right at the holidays to get the expenses off their books for the new year. It's so stressful, even for the ones who aren't cut, because they never know when their turn is next.
I'm bumping it in front of my top two must see, "It's Complicated" and "The Young Victoria."
Lisa Allender said…
Thanks for the review. Hansoo & I went shopping, never got to movies. Next weekend! :)

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