Sunday, January 10, 2010
"Up in the Air"
ZIP up the carry-on bag, SNAP up the handle, ROLL up to the gate, and V.I.P. through the automatic check-in machine. ZIP. SNAP. ROLL. VIP. "It's a pleasure to see you again Mr. Bingham." In V.I.P. time, Ryan Bingham is "Up in the Air."
This is the structured, comfortable life of Corporate Downsizing Expert and elite frequent flyer Ryan Bingham (brilliantly played by George Clooney.) Bingham happily travels 322 days a year. He is on the verge of achieving his ultimate goal - to win a golden card for earning ten million frequent flyer hours. And he has just met the frequent flyer woman of his dreams, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) - a sexually adventurous woman with no excess baggage.
After watching his motivational speech in the trailer, I was in no hurry to see the film. (I'll edit it here for brevity.) "Imagine that you're carrying a back pack...Pack it with all the stuff in your life...How much does your life weigh?...Now fill it with people...Feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake, your relationships are the heaviest components in your life." What has become of our country when a Corporate Downsizing Expert is considered a motivational speaker?! Our hero is a successful jerk who can't be bothered with people.
I opted for another movie on Christmas Day, but I couldn't help noticing that "Up in the Air" was sold out. Later, I looked it up on-line and found out that it was popping up on some best films lists. What did these people know that I didn't? Was it George Clooney's smile?
I saw it the next day. I was delighted to discover that "Up in the Air" was a charming, witty, and ultimately poignant film in the tradition of Prestin Sturge's smart comedies. Kudos to director/co-writer Jason Reitman ("Juno," "Thank You for Smoking"), co-writer Sheldon Turner, and an award winning ensemble cast.
Bingham flies from city to city firing unsuspecting corporate employees. He handles his job with the necessary objectivity while treating his victims with as much dignity as he can muster. He gives them a package that includes their severance benefits and a plan for reclaiming their unrealized dreams. No doubt it is a great comfort to get "up and away" from it all.
Bingham is in danger of being grounded when an Ivy League graduate Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) develops a plan to save travel costs by firing people via video conferencing. Bingham's comfortable routine is challenged when he is forced to take Natalie on the road to show her the ropes. She observes, "You have set up a way of life that makes it impossible for you to have any kind of human connection." I found myself rooting for this self-centered man to finally grow and learn how to connect with other people.
"Up in the Air" reminds us that in these difficult times, we need to come down to earth and find strength in our connections with others. One thumb way "Up in the Air."