It is safe to say Jason Reitman’s status as a top-notch director is no longer “up in the air” — if it ever was. The acclaimed Canadian director of Juno and Thank You for Smoking is back at the helm with Up in the Air, firmly cementing his place as one of the great directors of our day.
Based on the Walter Kirn novel of the same name, Up in the Air follows a man hired to fire people. Ryan Bingham (Clooney) is a career transition counsellor whose comfortable life of constant travel is interrupted by two women — one a keen young graduate integrating new technology into the field of job termination (Twilight’s Kendrick), the other his love interest Alex (Farmiga), a businesswoman with a busy lifestyle similar to his own.
Among the technological wizardry of today, a movie about characters is hard to come by. That is in part what makes Up in the Air so special. These characters are complex and can’t be understood at first glance. Where Juno’s dialogue was shoved in the viewer’s face, Up in the Air sits comfortably beside you, always witty but never overly precocious. This is largely a testament to the stellar cast.
Kendrick gives what might come to be called her breakthrough performance, or at least the one that quickly got her out of the Twilight zone. She shows promise in her role as Natalie, a girl frantically stepping into adulthood and a career.
Some of the most enjoyable scenes involve the relationship between Clooney and Farmiga’s characters. Both seem comfortably locked into a busy solitary life until they meet in a first-class airport lounge and compare their first-rate perks. It is the beginning of many great scenes between the two and sparks the film’s touching narrative of companionship.
Up in the Air comes out ahead of almost every movie of 2009 because of the relevancy of its themes. It is a film perfectly positioned around today’s economy — much more so than it might have been nine years ago when the novel was released. With layoffs reaching record heights, Up in the Air is geared to strike a chord with almost anyone.
In the closing scenes — where non-actors recently fired in real life describe their economic woes — the film tries a bit too hard to be relevant. It comes off as opportunistic and the movie briefly loses its subtlety. But if anything, Up in the Air wants to say life is better with a co-pilot. Whether all of these characters have a secure job or not, companionship is the one thing that keeps them on solid ground.
With the Academy Award for best picture widened to 10 nominees, will Up in the Air’s relevancy allow it to fly above its competition? No matter the result, Up in the Air is a smooth ride and a gem for our time.