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Up in the Air
Genre Drama
Year: 2009

Have you ever been fired or had to fire someone? It's never nice. In fact, the experience is generally terrible and is considered to have gone well if there's no incident. It's the reason bosses let people go on a Friday. We think we're defined by our jobs. It's the first thing anyone ever asks upon introduction, "So what do you do for a living?". I guess that's why it's so painful... taking the very thing that defines or establishes us in society and whipping it right out from under us. There's no way to avoid retrenchment and firing from being anything but personal, and this is where Up in the Air's Ryan Bingham finds himself.

For Ryan Bingham, firing has become something of an art. Companies that want to keep their hands clean and protect themselves from wrongful dismissals and work place incidents contract agencies like Ryan's to let the heads roll and clean up afterwards. Bingham is like a traveling salesman, flying from company to company, state to state... letting "firees" down easy and offering hope for their futures. He's an insincere guidance counselor, a buffer for the companies to get a move on with their corporate downsizing and an axe to deadwood.

There's a false sense of intimacy in Ryan's interactions. He gets to be in each candidate's head space for a couple of minutes... without feeling any intrinsic responsibility for his actions. Poverty, suicide, loss of self-esteem... these concerns are best forgotten. His smooth talking and off-the-cuff charm give him the license to operate within this realm with repetitive one-liners, but that's not to say there aren't any latent repercussions.

For one, he himself is on the way out... thanks to a new video conference system designed to make virtual firing a possibility. Bingham's own insecurity and feelings of emptiness and loneliness begin to emerge... as a family member's wedding approaches, as he meets another fellow traveler and as his job is put in jeopardy - leaving him Up in the Air.

The film is written and directed by Jason Reitman of Thank You For Smoking and Juno, and takes a similar comedic approach to some fairly serious subject matter with an excellent script. George Clooney is excellent as Bingham, bringing a real presence to the role - always reaching for fulfillment, but always landing in cynicism never quite managing to find his heart a home. He's supported by the luscious Vera Farminga, whose sultry performance and charms always demand our attention. Anna Kendrick also delivers a very watchable performance, taking her fresh-faced character's perfectionism into murky depths with an imperfect future as reality bites. All in all, it's a solid ensemble, led by strong lead and supporting performances.

There's a plain, minimalistic yet beautiful look to Up in the Air as Bingham moves between companies, motels and airports. Traveling out of a suitcase for weeks can't be much fun and Bingham's detachment from normal life really shines through. His ideology on traveling light takes him to seminars as a motivational speaker, believing that in order to make it in the world, you've got to be flexible, light on baggage and ready to move at a moment's notice.

Up in the Air has a similar arc, comedy and flow to About Schmidt with Jack Nicholson, who also finds himself on the road... detached from any sense of home... newly single and destined for a wedding. The same coming-of-age back story, reassessment of life, dark comedy and traveling light concept exist in both films. About Schmidt is just about a different stage of life, as a retired  and widowed gentleman embarks on a road trip to rediscover himself. 

Up in the Air is funny, entertaining and full of surprises. The one minute you're laughing and the next minute you're finding a cutting parallel between your life and poor Ryan Bingham's. There's a deep-seated sense of isolation and lack of grounding in this bachelor's life that is profoundly disturbing. Up in the Air taps into this insecurity with a funny yet cautionary tale of the man who travels lightly through life, like the character of Fielding in A Passage to India. It's enjoyable, but don't be misled... it's far from being a feel good movie.  

The bottom line: Insightful.


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