It's always interesting to see a film that coincides with a relevant time in history. Our country is still slogging through an economic recession and Juno director Jason Reitman delivers a poignant and timely tale about human connections and the job market. It would be easy to cast this aside a dry, boring story, but Up in the Air is one of the best films of the year and one that will keep you talking weeks after seeing it.
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a man whose sole purpose is to fire others. The only human connections he has in life are with those he meets “on the road,” such as Alex (Vera Farmiga), a woman who is similar to Ryan in almost every way. When a young upstart named Natalie (Anna Kendrick) devises a method that would make Ryan's job obsolete, the man who fires others is forced to show the young woman why his job is worth keeping. In the process the two find their own ways of properly connecting with those around them.
Up in the Air is a movie that connects with anyone who has every found their job in jeopardy. The main focus of the film is about two people who make their living firing others. Throughout clips of real displaced workers are included showing several different emotions ranging from frustration to utter despair. Anyone who has seen the effects of the economy will be deeply moved as Ryan and Natalie are forced to confront crying people and are bombarded with the question of how they can sleep at night. The movie has a funny irony about it since Ryan's own job is thrown into question due to Natalie's new method of getting the job done, firing people through online conferencing. What does the man who fires others do when he becomes obsolete? Another theme is that of human connection and how jobs and the tribulations of life connect and pull us from others. In his spare time Ryan does public speaking engagements spouting the need to sever ties with family, friends and possession to prevent from being hurt. To him this is an easier way to enjoy and get the most of life, but as the film moves on he becomes more and more lonely. His apartment is sparse, his relationships are merely casual, and he finds Natalie's views on love as childish and unrealistic. The only time he connects and gives comfort to others is through firing them. He cannot live with himself by being at home, the road is where he belongs. This sharply contrasts with Natalie's views, while she dreams of a white picket fence, husband, and children, she cannot cope with having to hurt others, thus her distancing through online firing. It's conversations like this that make Up in the Air so compelling. The themes are so accessible that even if you don't normally think or talk about films after they end, you will with this. It may seem like a downer but the movie is funny on top of that. Ryan has a set of rules that get him through the airport, stemming from avoiding old people due to the “hidden metal” in their bodies and such. Natalie's attempts to connect with Alex as a woman show the widening generation gap between women and the different ideals. The story never slows and always delves into interesting territory.
The cast is phenomenal and seem like such a tight-knit bunch that they all combine to form the perfect ensemble. George Clooney returns to his jerky guy with a heart of gold character he's seemed to establish. Ryan may be a jerk, but his walls are merely there to prevent him from having to cope with everyday life. Anna Kendrick is the perfect foil as the “normal” Natalie who personifies the average young American. Kendrick shows she's been wasting her time with the Twilight franchise and if this is any indication of her skills, she has staying power. She's a wonderful comedienne and such a sweet character you never want to see her upset. Vera Farmiga continues to give compelling performances, this year has been stellar for her. Alex is a realistic woman of today who has no pretensions about love but still yearns for it. Her motives toward the end may seem suspect, but even when you truly see her for who she is, you like her nonetheless.
I cannot praise Up in the Air enough! It's the best movie of the year and proves that Jason Reitman is a director to take seriously. Hopefully this effort is enough to nab him that Academy Award because this quirky slice-of-life tale is timely and sweet. Up in the Air gets a perfect 5/5.