Thursday, March 29, 2012

100 Movies - No. 90: Up in the Air

90. Up in the Air (2009)
Drama, Romance, 109 minutes
Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick

Jason Reitman has directed four full-length films and I love them all. Thank You for Smoking and Young Adult are very good, while Juno and Up in the Air are close to perfect. All are a combination of drama and comedy, but Up in the Air has more dramatic elements than the other three.

Ryan Bingham (Clooney) spends most of his life traveling. He flies from one city to another to fire people on behalf of companies who don't want to perform the task. We are told that he spent 322 days on the road the previous year. Although that kind of life would be detested by most people, Bingham likes it. He lives in hotels and his apartment is just an extension of that environment.

The rest of Bingham's time is taken up by giving motivational speeches. His philosophy states that our lives are filled with meaningless possessions, so he asks us to imagine starting over. He also believes that people are weighed down by the relationships in their lives. Whether it's friends, work colleagues, family members or romantic partners, they can be the most significant burdens we face. As a result, Bingham doesn't allow himself to get close to anybody in any type of relationship.

Does that sound depressing? Many of the people who dislike the film cite that as the main reason. I find it poignant, charming, intelligent and very funny.

Bingham's existence is threatened when a potential innovation is considered by his company. Instead of sending representatives all over America, the company may switch to firing people remotely using an Internet connection. The scheme is suggested by Natalie (Kendrick), who is young, eager and ambitious. Bingham insists that she doesn't have a clue about the reality of his job and he's given the task of showing her how it works.

The other major character is Alex (Farmiga). Bingham meets her by chance at an airport terminal and the two discover that they have a lot in common. Their initial meeting is very amusing.

The main strength of the film is its script. Reitman injects humor into serious situations and lightens the mood. I do appreciate that losing your job can be a traumatic event, but Up in the Air doesn't take itself entirely seriously. Another strength is the acting. Clooney is magnificent at delivering humorous lines in dramatic situations and Farmiga gives the best performance of her career to date as Alex.

My favorite scene - and there are many candidates - is probably the first meeting between Bingham, Alex and Natalie. The dialogue is fast-paced and witty and it's here that I know I'm in for an enjoyable ride. The way Natalie is completely oblivious to the fact that she's insulting Alex and Bingham makes me laugh every time. All three actors were nominated for their performances and I can see why.

One of the best moments perfectly blends drama, humor and reality. Bingham shows Natalie how to fire people and one of the unlucky candidates is Bob (J. K. Simmons). Although he's only on the screen for a few minutes, Simmons delivers a memorable performance. He's initially unconvinced by Bingham's words and Natalie's attempts to intervene, but Bingham says something that reaches him. It's such a believable exchange. A potentially explosive situation is avoided and Bob walks away feeling positive about his future.

I won't reveal any more of the plot, but I look forward to every scene when I watch Up in the Air. Bingham is the most intriguing character and it's interesting to see how his relationships and philosophy evolve during the film.

I'm sure that people like Bingham exist. Many have observed that Up in the Air reflects the times in which we live. It focuses on loyalty and the uncertainty present in today's economy. I don't particularly care about its relevance. I watch it every few weeks because I love visiting that world. The final shot takes us into the air once more and there's a moment of silence. It's a perfect way to end the story and suggests peace and solitude. That's exactly what Bingham likes about his job when we first meet him.

If you like Up in the Air:

I heartily recommend all of Jason Reitman's other films; Juno, Thank You for Smoking and Young Adult. Clooney's performance was Oscar-worthy, but he missed out. The same happened this year for The Descendants. The two performances are similar in some ways and benefit from Clooney's ability to deliver comedic lines in dramatic situations. I never thought I would say it, but Clooney's performance in The Descendants may be even better than his excellent work in Up in the Air.

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  1. One of the best films in recent memory. So simple, yet so affecting. The three leads are incredible: Vera Farmiga (although my favorite performance of hers was in "Source Code"), Anna Kendrick (such a talent, love her in "Scott Pilgrim VS. The World" and "50/50") and, of course, George Clooney. He's marvelous here, and I agree he's even better in The Descendants.

  2. It is pretty simple, isn't it? I guess that's good writing, bringing depth to a simple subject. I enjoyed Kendrick in 50/50 too. If I wrote a screenplay, it would be like this or Tarantino (only massively inferior).