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Up in the Air (2009)

December 14, 2009

8/10 Frequent Flyer Miles

Pertinent and poignant.

Up in the Air is about Ryan Bingham, a proud loner in every sense of the word who spends three quarters of the year flying around the country firing employees for bosses from other organizations who don’t have the backbone to do it themselves. Then everything starts to change for Ryan when he starts to get involved with a woman who’s practically the female version of himself while he’s forced to unwillingly mentor the new company whiz kid who’s trying to change his way of life by making his job go digital.

Cool idea for a movie, even though it can be a bit of a stretch to relate to for some.

So this is the third effort by director Jason Reitman, and for someone who’s got some pretty big shoes to fill, the guy’s on a freakin’ roll. As a director, he does a lot of things right and he knows how to tell a good story, but the thing I like about his movies is that they’re all about listening to people talk to each other. Thank You For Smoking‘s about a tobacco lobbyist who’s job it is to say the right thing, and one of the things that made Juno so good was all that “snarky” dialogue that everyone either loves or hates nowadays.

And while same is true for Up in the Air in keeping with the whole “talking heads” vibe, the difference lies in its tone. This is Reitman’s first real “grown up movie”, one that’s surprisingly subtle in the way it creeps up on you and packs a wallop of emotion without dressing it up in melodrama. The most glaring example of this is in his protagonist, Ryan Bingham.

Bingham’s an interesting character. Considering his line of work, he’s kind of a dick for a lot of the movie, but the thing that stood out most to me about him is how gradual and genuine his development is. There didn’t really seem like a single moment where he has an epiphany and everything changes for him at the flip of a switch, and I liked that. He’s not the most likable or endearing person, but the change in him seemed atypical and real as his cold shell slowly melts away at the hands of a metaphorical blow dryer. The reason I point this out is because it’s not something you often see in movie characters and it might just be the best thing Reitman has going here.

The other characters are good, too, but the credit mostly goes to the actors on that one. Newcomer Anna Kendrick is fantastic as the whiz kid Bingham has to take around the country, same thing goes for Vera Farmiga as Bingham’s potential main squeeze. And I like George Clooney. Even though he has yet to blow me away and I still think the best thing he’s done is Out of Sight, he’s a solid actor all the same and was a good pick to play Bingham.

The only complaint I have with this movie is that I felt like I could have connected with it more had I ever been fired from a job or been on the other end of the spectrum and had to fire someone else. Regardless, I don’t think anyone will have to stretch their imaginations in the least to feel the weight of how much it would suck to be on either end of the table, especially in today’s economic climate.

I also feel like this movie is destined to end up on Stuff White People Like. Without overgeneralizing it, there are times when I felt like it was sitting in on a story about white collar White people talking about their White people problems. It’s not exactly a justified complaint considering that’s just the kind of story this movie is about, at least at the beginning, but keep your eyes on that website. I’m calling it.

There’s also a handful of great cameos by J.K. Simmons, Zach Galifianakis, Danny McBride (go watch Eastbound and Down), and Sam Elliott (owner of what is arguably the world’s most dominating power mustache).

Up in the Air didn’t have me reaching out to hug someone like in Juno, nor did it make me want to go out and smoke my first pack of cigs like in Thank You For Smoking, but it still works really well on its own levels. It could have been funnier, but there are some truly outstanding moments and speeches to be found here that give a lot of insight into people, the ways in which we deal with them, and the reasons why we all need them. It takes a little while to get where it wants to be, but once it’s there, it feels like it arrived right on time.

And bonus points to Reitman for throwing in a great little soundtrack with some awesome riffs by Elliott Smith and Dan Auerbach among others. Gotta love a good soundtrack.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 15, 2009 10:20 pm


    I’m so insanely jealous that you have seen this!
    I’m going as soon as I finish finals tomorrow!!! Not sure if I have ever been anticipating a movie this much…

    • December 15, 2009 11:07 pm

      Hahaha. Hope you like it, man, it’s a good’n. And good luck with finals – yikes.

  2. February 1, 2010 6:11 am

    Trailers suggested this was a must-see. However, halfway through I looked at my wife and her dismayed glare reflected mine.

    This is appalling trash. Crap acting pretty much all round. Why GC got involved in this mess I fail to understand. Almost drove me to demand my money back.

    • February 1, 2010 8:19 am

      You’re not the first person I’ve talked to that’s gotten this reaction from Up in the Air. Wasn’t really a must-see, but still pretty good I thought. But hey, different strokes for different folks, and you’re definitely not alone on this one. Thanks for commenting all the same though!

    • February 1, 2010 3:55 pm

      Appalling trash? I’m not saying you can’t have your opinion, but that’s pretty strong to say without giving any sort of reason. What exactly was your problem with “Up in the Air?” I didn’t like “There Will Be Blood,” but never would I call it appalling trash.

      • February 2, 2010 9:39 am

        “Crap acting pretty much all round”; surely that’s “any sort of reason”? Most of the ex-employees (been there, sigh) were dreadful too.

        To elucidate, it was painfully slow, dull, uneventful, over-hyped (6 Golden Gbloe nominations, er, for what, I ask?!), at times simply ridiculous (weird crusty pilot taking a seat with GC, whaaat?!).

        Maybe the film’s attempt to convey emotion, sadness & irony was lost on me but my own sadness at simply sitting there watching had overtaken events by then.

        All cemented by my wife, an avid cinema-goer and my very own film critic, bless her; she’s not around right now but I might solicit her opinion and lob that into the pot too.

  3. February 2, 2010 11:53 am

    “Up in the Air” is a very subtle work. The emotional power of the film isn’t on the surface; you have to dig deep to find it. I’m sorry that you were too bored to go there.

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