Review: Up in the Air

Coming home can be a wonderful thing. As I returned home to visit with family for the Holidays, I found that one of the local theaters had received Up in the Air during its limited release. After a great festival run, a remarkable trailer, and huge critical success, it should not be a surprise that I was especially pleased at this turn of events. However, while I look forward to coming home, the central character in Up in the Air doesn't quite share my outlook.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, whose job requires him to travel around the country, firing people whose employers don’t have the nerve to do so themselves. On the plus side, he gives motivational speeches touting his personal philosophy on life: in terms of emotional baggage, pack light. His constant traveling (at one point he states that he was home for less than fifty days) have prevented him from forming meaningful relationships with anyone, including his family. Instead of resenting this fact however, Bingham relishes in it. In his words, “the slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living.” Bingham is in fact so enamored by his lifestyle that his only real aspiration in life is to reach ten million frequent flyer miles.

However, his goal is put in jeopardy by the sudden appearance of two women in his life. The first, Alex Goran, portrayed by Vera Farmiga, is a character much like Ryan Bingham. She spends much of her days on the road, and in doing so has collected a number of practices similar to his. Through her, Bingham finds that perhaps the prospect of a stable relationship is not so ridiculous after all, threatening his anonymous existence.  

The second, Natalie Keener, flawlessly portrayed by Anna Kendrick, is an upstart, business savvy, go-getter and the newest addition to the company Bingham works for. To cut costs and promote efficiency, Natalie suggests that instead of flying the company’s representatives out, they could facilitate the firings over the Internet. Needless to say, Bingham is in no way pleased to find his lifestyle, his entire reason for living, on the cutting board.

What follows is a clever, witty and at times poignant and enlightening look at relationships, people, love, and the simple facts of life we often take for granted. Up in the Air may not be the funniest comedy to date, nor the most touching drama, but taken for what it is, it is easily one of the most remarkable films I have ever seen.

The screenplay, written by Jason Reitman (who also directed and co-produced the film) and Sheldon Turner is simply amazing. Funny when it needs to be, touching when it wants to be, and all-around immaculately executed, Up in the Air was pure joy for me. Both timely and destined to be enduring, the film manages to reflect our current age with all its trials and frustrations, as well as capture elements of life that we can all relate to, no matter where we are in our lives. While the plot may go nowhere fast, and audiences might find its thematic elements a bit repetitious (especially towards the end), where the film shines is in its characters.

Each of Reitman and Turner’s characters are authentic, endearing and feel entirely full of depth and complexity without becoming wearisome. These well-written characters would be nothing however without the effortlessly beautiful performances in the film. George Clooney felt as if he was born to play the role, portraying Bingham with a natural poise and charm that was nearly flawless. His joys were easy to relate to, his frustrations were tangible; his experiences, his trials, his triumphs all resonate to form a striking, yet not unsubtle, performance.

Clooney is certainly not alone in this department however, as both leading ladies deliver their portrayals with an intense level of both appeal and depth. Not once in this film did I get the impression that this trio was performing below what was necessary to make a scene work. On the contrary, I was quite often surprised and overwhelmed by just how natural the characters felt and the ease at which they interacted with each other.

Up in the Air is not especially groundbreaking or original. It is not the funniest movie this year, and while it succeeds on an emotional level, I highly doubt it will leave you in tears. Regardless, Up in the Air is easily one of the most brilliant character-driven films I have seen in a long time. Clever, poignant, and memorable, this is without a doubt a remarkable experience and one that shouldn’t be missed.

Ratings for Up in the Air
Rating (out of 10 )
Overall Score
Epic Win

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Ryan Matsunaga's picture
Ryan is the head blogger at 8CN. He really likes pancakes. You can follow him on Twitter @RyanMatsu
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