Up in the Air
PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) works for the Career Transitions Corporation (CTC). He makes his living traveling to workplaces around the United States and informing workers of their dismissals in place of their employers, who fear doing it themselves. Ryan also delivers motivational speeches, using the metaphor “What’s In Your Backpack?” to extol the virtues of a life free of burdens like relationships with people as well as things, arguing that the best way to live is to travel light, with little to hold one down.
Ryan relishes his perpetual travels. His personal ambition is to earn ten million frequent flyer miles with American Airlines. While traveling, he meets another frequent flyer, Alex (Vera Farmiga). They begin a casual relationship, meeting whenever they can arrange to cross paths.
Ryan is unexpectedly called back to CTC’s offices in Omaha, Nebraska. An ambitious, freshly graduated new hire, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), is promoting a plan to cut costs by conducting layoffs via videoconferencing. Ryan argues that Natalie knows nothing about the actual process, live or not, as she has never fired anyone and does not know how to handle upset people. He plays the role of a fired employee to show her inexperience. His boss (Jason Bateman) assigns him to take Natalie with him on his next round of terminations, much to his annoyance. Throughout the rounds, Natalie is visibly disturbed by firing people face to face.
As they travel together and become better acquainted, Natalie questions Ryan’s philosophy, but he is satisfied with his lifestyle. During the trip, Natalie is shattered when her boyfriend unceremoniously dumps her by text message. Ryan and Alex try to comfort her. Natalie later lectures Ryan about his refusal to consider a commitment to Alex in spite of their obvious compatibility, and becomes infuriated; she apologizes later, but soon afterwards they are ordered back to Omaha to begin implementing Natalie’s program. There are problems during a test run; one laid-off man breaks down in tears before the camera, and she is unable to comfort him.
Instead of returning immediately to Omaha, Ryan convinces Alex to accompany him to his younger sister Julie’s (Melanie Lynskey) wedding near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Julie had him (and others) take photos of a cutout picture of her and future husband Jim (Danny McBride) in various places because they cannot afford a honeymoon trip. When Jim gets cold feet, Ryan’s older sister talks Ryan into using his motivational skills to persuade Jim to go through with it. Although this runs counter to Ryan’s personal philosophy of non-commitment, he persuades Jim that “everyone needs a co-pilot” and the important moments in life are rarely unshared. The wedding takes place without any further problems.
Ryan begins having second thoughts about his own life. As he starts to deliver his “What’s In Your Backpack?” speech at a convention in Las Vegas, he realizes he no longer believes it and walks off the stage. On an impulse, he flies to Alex’s home in Chicago, Illinois. When she opens the door, he is stunned to discover she is a married woman with children; Ryan leaves without saying a word. She later tells him on the phone that her family is her real life and he is simply an escape. When she asks him what he wants out of their relationship, he is unable to answer.
On his flight home, the crew announces that Ryan has just crossed the ten-million-mile mark. The airline’s chief pilot (Sam Elliott) comes out of the cockpit to meet Ryan. He notes that Ryan is the youngest person to reach the milestone; Ryan, who had been preparing for that moment for a long time, shows little emotion.
Back in his office, Ryan calls the airline to transfer five hundred thousand miles each to the newlyweds, enough for them to fly around the world for their honeymoon. His boss then tells Ryan that a woman he and Natalie fired has jumped off a bridge, just as she warned them she would, and that when Natalie found out, she quit via text message. Ryan claims to have no memory of the employee making this threat. The company puts the remote-layoff program on hold because of government concerns, and Ryan is once again “back on the road”.
Natalie applies for a job in San Francisco, California. The interviewer is puzzled as to why she chose to work for CTC, given her sterling qualifications; she tells him she followed a boy. Based on a glowing recommendation from Ryan, he hires her. The film concludes with Ryan standing in front of a vast destination board, looking up, and letting go of his luggage
I happen to be lucky enough to work somewhere where if they want to fire me, they need to call me up to the front office to do so. Not everyone is so lucky, though. Some people work in stuffy offices and can be fired by people who don’t even work for the company. This is the basis for Up in the Air.
What did I like?
The truth. I’m scared to death of flying. No, it has nothing to do with 9/11. I’m on of those people who is scared og heights, so flying is also out of the question. In this post 9/11 world, we are always hearing about how airlines are either charging for this or that and how rigorous and invasive bag checks and searches are. It doesn’t show that too much here, but Clooney’s character does give us some ideas about how to get around those things that are supposed to “help”
Cover your bases. More often than not, we see films that veer off in too many directions, leaving the viewer lost and confused as to what is going. Not to mention the fact that some of these plot tangents either don’t get resolves or are totally forgotten. This film, though, manages to give equal time to all these various storylines and resolves them all…some not so happily.
The bottom line. In the early scenes of the film, we get a shot of the extremely attractive Vera Farmiga’s backside. That right there is almost worth a star! I’m sure the female audience members would have preferred it to have been George Clooney’s, though.
What didn’t I like.
Glittery vampires rot your brain. This is Anna Kendrick’s first film that has no glittery vampires, werewolves who can’t keep their shirts on in human form, or no talent, overrated, Down Syndrome looking leads. Kudos to her for making the leap into more adult films. She does a good job for the most part, but she still comes off as a bit of an immature teen, when she is supposed to be fresh out of college. Yes, some teen-ism is expected, but I felt she coud have done better.
At least someone is getting work. Melanie Lynskey and Jason Bateman seem to be in nearly every film these days. Hell, Melanie has been in the last 3 in a row that I’ve watched, I think. I don’t have a problem with her, though. She’s talented and not an eyesore. However, Jason Bateman is just starting get on my last nerves. He’s not on the list of people I want to use medieval torture devices on…yet, but he’s getting there. Roles like this where he is nothing more than a douchebag boss, aren’t helping his case with me.
Family. Maybe I’m just cold-hearted, but I really didn’t see the need to bring in Clooney’s family issues. That whole thing about carrying around a cardboard cutout of his sister and her fiancée so they could be photographed in various places and then the whole thing about him not being around really ruined his character for me. I say this because, he builds it up that he is one of these people who rarely goes home (I can relate), but rather a loner. That’s the way he should have stayed.
Up in the Air is a good film. Critics were head over heels for it. However, like many critical darling pictures, I wasn’t in love with this. I liked it, but wasn’t crazy about it. The film is a bit too slow and dramatic for my taste. Still, there are those out there who will actually be head over heels for this kind of picture. I’m just not on of them. Still, it wouldn’t hurt you to give it a shot.
4 out of 5 stars