Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Movie Review: Jason Reitman's Up In The Air, starring George Clooney, Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga

Posted By on Wed, Dec 23, 2009 at 6:00 AM

[Author's Note: Although this review ran in the 12/9 print edition of Creative Loafing, I have held posting it until now. After numerous date-changes, Up In The Air opens everywhere today. Please consider seeing it, especially if the Avatar screening you're trying to get into is sold out upon your arrival at the multiplex.]


After watching Jason Reitman’s wonderful Up In The Air, I kept trying to put a label on the movie. Is UITA the first post-post-9/11 movie? Or maybe it’s a charming end-cap on the less-than-sweet aughts decade? Then again, perhaps it’s the first real film of the economically depressed Age of Obama? Any way you tag it, UITA is just terrific, a perceptive look at how we live now with a winning script, keen direction and three pitch-perfect performances — all of which seem destined for Oscar.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a road warrior for a company that specializes in outsourced layoffs. Bingham is endlessly criss-crossing the country (and racking up an incredible number of frequent flyer miles) while cutting workers loose by the hundreds. Early in the film, the patented Clooney charm is on full display, as Bingham sends the laid-off sheep to the unemployment slaughter with a gentle smile and some bullshit about this being the first day of the rest of their life.

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While passing through a standard traveler’s bar on a layover, Bingham meets the sultry Alex (Vera Farmiga). The pair flirt by discussing the size of Bingham’s miles account, and Alex seems to be Bingham’s female doppelganger: sharp, world-weary, always on the road. Their one-night stand turns to something more the second the lovebirds do a post-coital checking of the schedules to see when their paths cross again.

After parting ways with Alex, Bingham is called back to the home office in Omaha for a staff-wide meeting. The company has a fresh-from-the-Ivies new hire (Anna Kendrick, in a star-making performance) with a brilliant idea to cut the company’s travel budget by 85 percent: Do all layoffs via video-conferencing. Bingham is appalled, ostensibly with concern for those about to be fired but really because he can’t fathom a life not on the road. After Bingham angrily confronts Natalie over the plan, their boss (a deliciously smarmy Jason Bateman) sends the pair out together so that Natalie can learn the ropes of outsourced firings from a master of the art.

Once out in the real world, Bingham is weighed down both by burgeoning feelings for Alex and by young Natalie and her inexperience. This is a guy who makes his home in a network of business-traveler hotels, lounges and check-in counters that most people are aware of but never use. He understands people, their emotions, and how to take a terribly uncomfortable situation (i.e., firing someone) and make it palatable. But when saddled with confusing romantic feelings or a young chick who insists on checking a bag and carrying on a pillow (not to mention firing long-time employees via computer monitor), Bingham isn’t sure what to do. You see, despite his enormous charm and in-command demeanor, this guy is terrible with personal relationships. Just ask his sister.

How these three characters interact and where the story takes them is a real pleasure, and it’s a credit to writer/director Jason Reitman that Up In the Air manages to stay fresh, relevant and surprising right to the very end. I expect Clooney to be a shoo-in for a well-deserved Best Actor nomination — there’s genius in the way he uses then subverts his own charisma, in the process turning Bingham from cool, in-control professional to just-as-damaged-as-the-rest-of-us everyman. Anna Kendrick may be largely unknown (you might have seen her in Twilight), but can expect major stardom after damn near stealing this movie right out from under Clooney. (In fairness to George, she gets almost all the best lines.) Vera Farminga is also just perfect here, making it a shame that there is only one Best Supporting Actress Oscar to go around. Can’t we just call it a tie?

Jason Reitman called Up In The Air a “movie of the moment.” With jobs and the economy top concerns among Americans as we enter a new decade, this is a movie that really does seem to have its finger on the pulse of the nation. It’s also smart, funny and insightful — and the best movie of the year.

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