Director Jason Reitman has changed courses from “Juno” to Oscar hums soaring around his latest film, “Up in the Air” about life experiences, the choices we make and ultimately, what our priorities truly are. George Clooney plays the role of Ryan Bingham, “Mr. On-the-Road 300+ Days a Year” and prides himself on mastering the art of the road, airports, security and those all important frequent flyer mileage points; a 10 million goal to be exact. He flits and flies mostly between the breadbox of America, small towns with insignificant destinations, as one hotel room bleeds into another and after awhile, they all look alike and smell alike in his world of blissful anonymity.
Ryan’s primary job by day is traveling to meet employees of companies about their future. He’s the “ax man” who sends corporate America adrift in a surreal and detached way, just as the road has taken its toll on Ryan’s jaded outlook of human behavior. He interfaces with them when they’re in their most fragile state; he’s their wake-up call who makes limbo tolerable. How does he do ‘dat? He’s crafty and calculating and emits heartfelt heartlessness, the corporate Grinch with a smirk on his face and self-aggrandizing glee. But really, what does he care; he’s barely on the ground before we see him back “Up in the Air”?
The topic he admires most about himself is the seminars he’s hired for, to talk to corporate America about the size of our “personal backpacks.” Is it filled with family photos, heirlooms, tactile belongings and what about relationships? How much stuff can one person carry around? For Ryan, he prides himself on living with nothing, but what he can pack into his carry-on luggage. Ah, but then Ryan meets his match, Alex, played by Vera Farmiga, as a mirror image of Ryan who avoids commitments and all the sordid details involved with excess baggage. He’s taken off guard. Alex is just as unemotional, just a cynical, just as well traveled, just as good looking and just as anonymous in Ryan’s life as he is, in his own way. They’re the perfect break for each other in their normal lives until Ryan becomes her parenthesis. No one deserves this or hmmmmmmm; maybe Ryan does?
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Anna Kendrick who plays the college grad ready to stamp her imprint into Ryan’s world at Career Transition Corporation, who knows how to slice and dice stats on a spreadsheet, but takes some hard knocks from Ryan, as she learns the ropes the hard way. She’s naïve; she’s in her infancy of accumulating her frequent flyer miles and hasn’t grasped the full concept of Ryan’s style. She has a conscience. She has her feet planted firmly on land and fortunately, the altitude hasn’t gone to her head yet.
“Up in the Air” is a really good movie that covers very uncomfortable subject matter. The Oscar hums are well deserved and the acting from each is great. Buckle your seatbelts; the ride gets bumpy.