Review: Up in the Air

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Thank you for smoking and teen pregnancy, Diablo Cody. Now is it time to teach George Clooney to fly?

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Up in the Air tells with sometimes dark and sometimes goofy humour the story of a life in transit—or rather on moving between a life in transit to something more settled. It’s an acknowledgement of aging, of the struggling economy, and of the decisions some of us make to survive, often in conflict with our pride, our sense of adventure, or feeling of duty. But duty to what? Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) works “in the air” spending 23 days a year at home, and the rest travelling around the US firing people for a living. This seems like a thankless job, but he’s good at it, and never seems affected by the faces in tears, and the sometimes verging on violent reactions of his terminees. Early in the film he meets Alex (Vera Farmiga), a woman also living mostly in airports, and they begin the most casual of relationships—meeting up every few weeks when their endless touring leaves them in the same city together. All is well until his company hires a young upstart—sham
Thank you for smoking and teen pregnancy, Diablo Cody. Now is it time to teach George Clooney to fly?

 

{{page_break}}Up in the Air tells with sometimes dark and sometimes goofy humour the story of a life in transit—or rather on moving between a life in transit to something more settled. It’s an acknowledgement of aging, of the struggling economy, and of the decisions some of us make to survive, often in conflict with our pride, our sense of adventure, or feeling of duty. But duty to what? Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) works “in the air” spending 23 days a year at home, and the rest travelling around the US firing people for a living. This seems like a thankless job, but he’s good at it, and never seems affected by the faces in tears, and the sometimes verging on violent reactions of his terminees. Early in the film he meets Alex (Vera Farmiga), a woman also living mostly in airports, and they begin the most casual of relationships—meeting up every few weeks when their endless touring leaves them in the same city together. All is well until his company hires a young upstart—shamelessly named Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick)—who wants to use videoconferencing to do the terminations. Ryan protests to this inhuman method—a surprising sentiment from such an unempathetic character—and ends up taking Natalie with him on a business tour, to prove to her the humanity in his work.

 

 

Initially seeming like a silly romantic comedy, the film takes a few profound turns closer to the end. Ryan may be charming, and he may be silly, but really he’s a heartless and obsessively transitory individual for most of the almost two hours the film lasts. He even has a second career throughout giving speeches at business conferences on how and why to more effectively avoid commitment (to paraphrase; Imagine a backpack. Put everything you own in the backpack. Heavy, isn’t it? All of this is tying you down. Burn the backpack.). Somehow though—and here the brilliance of casting George Clooney is evident—he still ends up being a likeable character, and we do care about his journey. Make no mistake, this is more than just a comedy. Is it perfect? Not necessarily. But I don’t think it aspires to be perfect. It is a sometimes quaint, sometimes heartbreaking tale of a man living his life.

The transformation he undergoes is neither startling, nor extreme, but I appreciate the choice to make it so. Small changes are nearly always as important as big ones. The film is an exercise in philosophy—initially in materialism, isolationism, and egoism—and subsequently… well… a slightly transformed version of materialism, isolationism, and egoism; a more aware version. Things happen. People move. Ryan acknowledges this, and responds as he is moved to. It’s a film about moving. If you complain that the story did not have a greater consequence, then I think you are missing the point. Ryan’s just a man, and I enjoyed a couple hours with him.

Watch this movie.