Monday, December 28, 2009

Up in the Air ***1/2

Up in the Air
***1/2 out of ****

Finally, the movie we've been waiting for the whole season long: a purely enjoyable film about modern life, without any clear message shoved down your throat. Up in the Air (not to be confused with Pixar's Up) centers on Ryan Bingham, played to perfection by the marvelous George Clooney. Ryan is a compulsive traveler, on the road way more often than he is at home. His job is to go to companies and fire people when their bosses don't want to do it themselves. He's also a motivational speaker, using the metaphor of a backpack to illustrate how people need to avoid relationships and commitments. His job causes him to fly from one end of the country to another on a daily basis, rarely going home to Omaha. Despite his lack of friends, he loves his life and secretly hopes to reach ten million miles. The masterfully edited beginning sequences shows him going through the routines of checking in at the airport like one might wake up and prepare for work in the morning.
But his nomad existence is threatened by a young female up-and-comer at his company, Natalie, who proposes that they fire people via web conferences instead of traveling all the time. Ryan reluctantly takes Natalie on the road with him to show her that face-to-face downsizing is necessary because it allows the injured parties some dignity. Natalie is played by Anna Kendrick (Twilight) as an educated do-gooder who doesn't understand the way Ryan's world works.
A subplot involves Ryan meeting a sexy fellow traveler Alex, played by Vera Farmiga (The Departed) with a sparkle in her eye. The two begin a feisty yet gentle romance that neither wants to commit to.
Despite its slightly depressing- yet very relevant- plot, the film is ferociously funny, getting into the characters' minds and exposing how crazy they all are. Natalie provides the most laughs in the film, especially a scene where her boyfriend breaks up with her via text message and she gets very emotional in a hotel lobby. She also provides some of the most heartwrenching scenes in the movie, when she realizes exactly what her business entails- ending the careers of strangers. This film has truly made Kendrick a star. Watching Ryan's character resist change, and then finally accept that maybe he can change, is also a wonder to behold.
The superb cast also includes Jason Bateman as Ryan's boss, J.K. Simmons and Zach Galifianakis as unfortunate souls that Ryan fires, Melanie Lynskey as his soon-to-be-married sister, and Danny McBride as his sister's groom-to-be.
Writer/director Jason Reitman (Juno) has created something wonderful here: an immensely enjoyable film purely for adults, with the humor embedded in the dialogue and in plausible situations, instead of cinematic pies in the face that so many films resort to these days. It's a film that can make you laugh your head off and cry your eyes out, sometimes even in the same scene. It's part comedy, part drama, and ultimately, part tragedy. This is probably the definitive film of our times, with the economy in such bad shape as it is. Up in the Air will certainly plow its way through award season, and with good reason to.
I would recommend this film to fans of Clooney, comedy lovers, and anyone wanting to see a good non-franchise film this holiday season.

You can watch the trailer here:

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