Cover of Walter Kirn's novel, on which the film is based.
Up In The Air follows American Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney; a near-nomadic, outsourced downsizer (oh the times we live in!) who travels all across the lower 48 states doing the dirty work of serving employees severance packages while glazing over the shame of termination, all with the charm and charisma of the average, garden-variety, talking snake.
It is 2009, the recession has hit and business has never been better; Ryan loves his job. Charming and sophisticated, he is a man unfettered who comforts himself in his ability to not only diffuse the worst of situations, but to walk away from them entirely.
Enter Alex (Vera Farmiga), a beautifully seasoned, condescendingly intelligent, career-oriented woman; a love interest so convenient it's almost masturbatory. She herself is caught up in a web of cross country flight paths and can barely bring herself to be tethered by anything at all. They interact with the disarming, competitive cynicism you'd expect from any character played by George Clooney; wearing their detachment like medals of honour. They soon find themselves forging a relationship of...convenience, synchronizing their schedules for the next enviable sexual tryst. Alex, wise to the game and patently unconcerned about the details, serves as Ryan's sexual and intellectual equal throughout the film.
Meanwhile, there are changes to be had back at headquarters. Ryan is summoned back to base to discover that young college graduate and consummate upstart, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), aspires to revolutionize the business by instituting lay-offs via teleconferencing, decreasing budget expenditure dramatically and, inadvertently, pushing Ryan just a little bit closer to obsolescence. Offended (and just a bit threatened by the prospect of being grounded), Ryan challenges Natalie's proposal and quite swiftly illustrates to both her and their boss (Jason Bateman) that she hasn't the faintest idea of what is really takes to let workers know they've been 'let go'. Ryan, however has little time to be satisfied, his boss, undaunted, proposes that Natalie could be brought up to speed under Ryan's expert tutelage.
As Ryan begrudgingly accepts, what develops from here is a film that explores the value of human connection; friends, family, relatives, clients, names on file and the inflated emptiness of our relationships and the power they possess to redeem or lay waste to our best established concepts of ourselves, our environments and any semblance of meaningfulness we can scrape together.
Genre-indicative cinematography aside, the film is unmistakably comedic. The movie is funny because the characters are funny. It shies away from relying heavily on absurd situational comedy but instead focuses meticulously on the interplay of personal philosophies and displays of keen wit and crass tongues. If nothing else, the film's dialogue is agile. It deftly avoids the typical constructions and aims for something organic while doing its best to retain its refinement.
The on-screen chemistry between Clooney and Farmiga is very convincing- a not-so-secret game of one-upsmanship which each time ends in orgasm. Kendrick portrays Natalie's generationally transcendent youthful naiveté in a way that makes you wonder whether or not your ambitions and priorities are still so blind. A wide-eyed idealist fresh out of college, Natalie represents the perhaps distinctly modern feminine disillusionment of the initial conflict between professionalism and her socio-biological imperative.
Ultimately, the film shapes up to be something beautiful, between the aforementioned and the very personal meta-commentary on unemployment and cooperate downsizing, it's genuinely worth seeing. It is a post-modern reflection of 2009 all sliced down to just under 2 hours and a couple moments of quiet contemplation.
*Lesedi Tidd is a socialist existentialist (aka a university student) living in Trinidad. This post was originally published on January 8, 2010.
WATCH the Up In The Air trailer here. FIND out more from the Movietowne website where the film is currently playing here.