Director Jason Reitman follows up his wonderful Juno
with Up in the Air, a movie that somehow manages to make
corporate downsizing a sentimental and humorous affair. Don’t get
me wrong, Reitman’s film has sympathy for those who have lost or
will lose their jobs. It’s just that he provides laughter with
Most of the bittersweet humor in this well-balanced movie is
provided by George Clooney as Ryan Bingham. Ryan is a man so afraid of
commitment he teaches seminars on how to remain unattached. He also
travels the country doing the dirty work of firing people for
corporations that don’t want the trouble of looking their
employees in the eyes with bad news. He keeps a small apartment in
Nebraska, but his main homes are seats on airplanes and multiple hotel
rooms. He brandishes his airport and hotel club cards like badges of
honor, and longs for the day when he logs 10 million air miles.
Ryan is content with his job and, in a strange way, feels like some
sort of good will ambassador when he fires people, because he’s
human and he cares—to a certain degree. He’s mastered his
rap to the point where one guy getting fired (Zach Galifianakis) asks
him whether they will be in touch again. Of course, they
Then, thanks to the wonders of technology, Ryan’s boss (a
droll Jason Bateman) looks to ground him. New face Natalie (Anna
Kendrick) has come up with a way to fire people via broadband and
satellite, and Ryan will only need a computer camera and his desk chair
from now on. Ryan, disgruntled that he will no longer experience the
intimacy of face-to-face terminations, is forced to take Natalie on the
road to show her the ropes.
Further complicating matters is that Ryan might be falling in love
with Alex (Vera Farmiga), another frequent flyer. Alex seems to be on
his wavelength, so much so that Alex, when explaining the semantics of
their relationship, suggests, “Think of me as yourself, only with
a vagina.” Ryan is intrigued and even winds up inviting her to
his sister’s wedding, where his issues with commitment are
seriously put to the test.
Reitman’s film is remarkably structured, giving sufficient
time to Ryan’s job issues and romantic situations. His time with
Natalie is strictly business, and the film has one of its best moments
when the duo fires a corporate guy (a blisteringly good J.K. Simmons)
who really wanted to be a cook. Simmons has only a few minutes on
screen, but he rocks them hard.
Making things almost frighteningly authentic, Reitman hired some
real life, recently fired people to serve as extras getting canned by
Clooney’s character. Much of what we see from firing victims is
real life reactions to dismissals. No, Clooney didn’t really fire
them, but Reitman gave them the opportunity to vent feelings about
their situations. Now their sentiments are on display in a critically
acclaimed film. That’s almost worth getting canned!
Kendricks is excellent as somebody who isn’t as tough and
callous as she thinks she is. Her character starts off as icy cold and
progresses into somebody who does actually give a rat’s ass. Her
airport breakdown is a thing of beauty, and she is forgiven for her
participation in the Twilight movies. Farmiga has never been
better as a woman who is simply playing a part when she hits the
As for Clooney, he has become modern cinema’s master of
natural, effortless humor. This isn’t to say he can’t camp
it up with the best of them (see O Brother, Where Art Thou?).
It’s just to say that he can make you laugh and make it appear
like he isn’t even trying. He can also handle the heavy stuff
with the best of them. Up in the Air could very well wind up
being the movie he is most remembered for a 100 years from now.
Editor’s Note: Due to a last-minute change, Up in the Air
is now scheduled to open in Reno on Dec. 23.