Up In the Air (2009)
Directed by Jason Reitman • Written by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner.
With George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick and Jason Bateman.
Based on a book by Walter Kirn, Up in the Air is a drama-comedy starring George Clooney as Ryan Bingham – a man with more air miles to his name than Pan Am. Well, not quite, but he has a “number in mind”. Bingham is a solitary soul, flying from state-to-state, firing people from their jobs for a living, only, is he really living? What to most of us sounds like an empty life suits Ryan down to the ground, that is, until young upstart Anna Kendrick arrives with new ideas to revolutionise the company, much to Ryan’s dismay.
As the titles roll, we begin with a short collection of impressive aerial shots, emphasising the beauty of Earth from above – Bingham’s home away from home. The film explores a philosophy centering on the idea of being alone, living a life without the daily complications brought about by relationships or possessions. Aside from his day job, Ryan Bingham sidelines as a motivational speaker at conventions, giving his well-rehearsed- ‘What’s in your backpack?‘ talk between flights.
A film of smiles above outright laughs, Clooney’s collected demeanour seems, to some degree, a semi-projection of his off-screen persona. Bingham’s experience at check-in desks has taught him valuable time-saving ways to beat the queues. He asserts – “Never get behind people travelling with infants. I’ve never seen a stroller collapse in less than 20 minutes.” It’s this kind of wry humor that gives the film its stride, in the absence of a distinguishable plot.
On his travels, Bingham is joined by Natalie (Kendrick), who gets on his nerves before they begin to see the human side of each other as Natalie loses her frosty veneer and publicly breaks down in Bingham’s embarrassed arms. Their warring father-daughter simulation is sparky and although Kendrick is occasionally irritating…she’s supposed to be.
It’s only when Bingham meets a female version of himself in Vera Farmiga’s Alex Goran, that his conviction in his own theory of carrying life luggage is brought to question. Farmiga and Clooney make a sophisticated duo, sipping whiskey in airport lounge rooms while pattering like a pair of golden age movie stars. Clooney’s performance is straight out the Nespresso commercial – that dapper, oozing-confidence swagger that’s smoother than coffee and satin.
With the help of co-writer Sheldon Turner, Reitman’s film is an agreeably subtle study of self-induced loneliness. 4/5