Up in the Air
Directed by Jason Reitman
Paramount Pictures, 2009
By Sean Kelly
When your father is Ivan Reitman, the director of Ghostbusters, you’ve been handed quite a challenge to step out from his shadow. However, Jason Reitman seems to have found a niche in making some intriguing character studies. In Thank You for Smoking we were given a sympathetic portrayal of a tobacco lobbyist. In Juno we learned about the unexpected challenges of teen pregnancy. Now, with Up in the Air, we follow a guy who flies around the country and fires people on behalf of companies that are too scared to do it themselves.
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is completely at home with life on the road. With his schedule of firing people and making motivational speeches, he barely spends time at his own home, and is well on his way to becoming only the seventh person to reach ten million frequent flyer miles. Ryan even manages to meet a fellow frequent traveller named Alex (Vera Farmiga) with the same view on life and they quickly begin an affair.
His way of living is put in jeopardy when an eager young woman named Natalie (Anna Kendrick) proposes to change the method of termination from individual meetings to video conferences over the internet. Ryan is told by his boss (Jason Bateman) to take Natalie along on his next series of trips, so she can learn the “art” of firing people.
The topic of lay-offs is really pertinent in light of the economic recession. Most of the people seen being fired (with the exception of cameos from the likes of Zach Galifianakis and J.K. Simmons) are recently terminated individuals in real life, who take the opportunity to vent their frustrations. There is one scene in particular — the first firing using the video conferencing method — that is particularly hard to watch.
While this commentary on the economic situation dominates much of the film, the story evolves to encompass Ryan’s progressive realization that he has a very empty life. He begins to doubt the philosophy that he lives by and gives speeches on, a philosophy of life without committment to relationships or any other excess baggage. His doubts lead him to painful truths and the revelation that his only real achievement in life has been the accumulation of a lot of frequent flyer miles.
Overall, I quite enjoyed the film and I have a feeling that we’ll hear a lot about it, come award season.