Up in the Air (2009)

Inevitably, people will walk out of this movie shaking their heads at the depressing state of affairs in which our main character, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) finds himself.  Coming out on the other side of perhaps his most important personal discovery he is at once, like so many of the individuals he is brought in to let go, lacking direction and uncertain of his formerly clear future.  At a glance, this seems neglectful to the character; a harsh and irresolute ending for a guy we’ve actually come to like, if only for his smarm.  But this distinction isn’t made lightly and it’s what keeps you both anxious and interested.

Clooney in Up in the airJason Reitman‘s latest film follows Bingham, a perpetual road (sky) warrior quietly obsessed with reaching his goal of ten million frequent flyer miles.  Bingham is a loner by choice.  Relationships are purely baggage to be avoided, commitment just the last stop before death.  His is a journey that few would take, and he acknowledges this difference with a stronghold of superiority.  When his so meticulously crafted lifestyle becomes dispensable, Ryan Bingham goes out on the road for one last hurrah, his company’s freshly-minted innovator in tow.  23-year-old Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) gives Bingham every opportunity to condescend, yet in the end it’s her lessons in idealist love that worm their way into his brain.  His life of fling finds its focus in Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) and what begins as an exercise in sexual freedom culminates with an invitation to the wedding of his younger, mildly estranged sister, ending up as something like love…at least for him.

And so Ryan Bingham is forced to reevaluate everything he once knew.  His whole life built on the notion that being alone actually equals safety, the safety net suddenly vanishes and revelation looks more like a black hole than anything else.  Inherently there is nothing happy about this.  Learning a lesson doesn’t have anything to do with finding resolution.  But throughout this film  Bingham is conveying endlessly to those individuals for whom it is his job to fire how necessary it is to have this experience.  “Anybody who ever did anything great sat where you’re sitting today, and they were able to do it because they sat there.”  Rote though it may be, it’s a lesson that we have to hope Ryan Bingham will learn once the credits start to roll.

If there’s a negative here, it’s how forgettable Up in the Air seems.  It’s as though the only way we’ll be talking about it years from now is if it somehow pulls out a seriously surprising Best Picture win.  Clooney is fine, charming per usual.  Vera Farmiga should, if nothing else, find some more work as a sultry, ageless fox.  Surprisingly Anna Kendrick is the standout; a smart and stoic midwesterner by day and flustered and frustrated twenty-something by night.  But somehow none of this, the story, the characters, the performances, the gorgeous sky shots that open and close and appear throughout, none of it does enough to make this feel like more than just a good film.  Thank You for Smoking had that rookie of the year feel, and obviously there was something about Juno, but I fear that Up in the Air will simply fall by the wayside.  A good film, in an OK year, in a time when you have to be more than both.

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