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Up in the Air Review


RATING:
(4 STARS)

Sometimes a film comes along and does more than simply entertain; it speaks to people, sends them a clear message. Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” is such a film. It so perfectly captures the zeitgeist of American today, it’s almost scary. It says to those millions of unemployed Americans “It’s OK. You are not alone.” It’s a hopeful message, but not one that’s forced down our throats. For two-thirds of the film, we expect the main character to learn a valuable lesson about love and togetherness until the third act throws us for a loop and elevates “Up in the Air” from a very good movie to an excellent one. Nothing comes easy in this film, and that’s something to be both enjoyed and admired.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) fires people for a living. It seems like one of the worst jobs one could have, but Ryan excels at it. Why? He remains detached from anything and everything. His only family are his distant sisters and he isn’t at all interested in settling down with a wife and kids. He rents a one-bedroom apartment in Omaha, but only lives there about 40 days a year. He spends the rest of his time working and flying across the country. His relationships last only a few hours, and he couldn’t be happier. But two women threaten to permanently disrupt his lifestyle.

The first is Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick). She’s an amibtious youngster at Ryan’s firm and she has a way to revolutionize the firing business: Webcams. Ryan hates the idea because he will be permenantly grounded, and firing people for a living doesn’t sound too good if it doesn’t come with the lifestyle he holds so dearly. His boss (Jason Bateman) is crazy about the idea because it will save the company a fortune, but he decides to give Natalie some experience doing what Ryan does before making a final decision. So the pair travels the country firing people, and Natalie realizes she might not know what she’s gotten herself into.

The other woman is Alex (Vera Farmiga). She threatens Ryan’s lifestyle in a much more pleasant way. The two are a perfect match for each other (Alex at one point says she’s the same person as him, only with a vagina). Their relationship starts as casual sex, but after spending a weekend together at Ryan’s sister’s wedding, Ryan re-evaluates his priorities and thinks it might be time to find his co-pilot.

“Up in the Air’s” biggest strength is its ability to flawlessly balance its multi-layered story. It’s not that it’s confusing, it just works on so many different levels, and Reitman makes sure he gives them all their due. As a love story, “Up in the Air” is sweet and original. It also works as a character study, an examination of how changing technology affects people’s lives, and a comedy (much of “Up in the Air” is hilarious, but the jokes are rarely forced). And as I noted earlier, perhaps the best scenes are those which give us a glimpse into the hopes and fears of today’s working Americans.

Another of the film’s chief assets is the exceptional acting of its three stars. George Clooney is perfect for the role of Ryan, perhaps because the character seems to be a version of his tabloid self. Ryan is charming, but he’s also immature (he doesn’t really know what he wants). It’s one of Clooney’s best roles (I still think heis best was in “Michael Clayton”), and an Oscar nomination would be deserved.

Same goes for his two wonderful co-stars. Anna Kendrick emerges from the Twilight series unscathed and turns out a terrific supporting performance. Natalie seems like an irritating type-A at first, but she’s got a lot of heart, perhaps too much for her own good, and she ends up being wiser and much more likable than anyone gives her credit for. And as the woman in Ryan’s life, Vera Farmiga is exceptional. She and Clooney have smolder as a couple; I hope they continue to make movies together in the future.

Of the three films Jason Reitman has headed up (the others are “Thank You for Smoking” and “Juno”), this one features his finest direction. The first few scenes that introduce us to Ryan and his lifestyle are expertly put together and especially noteworthy. He’s shown a lot of growth over the course of three films, and I’m glad to see he chose to throw away some of the quirks that made his first two films a bit frustrating for me.

The screenplay, by Reitman and Shelton Turner and based on the book by Walter Kirn, features some of the finest and fastest dialogue of the past year. If the film misses out on winning Best Picture, I expect it will be deservedly awarded in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.

I think Oscar should and will go crazy for this film, for it is one of the finest pictures of 2009. It’s neck and neck right now with “The Hurt Locker” and “Avatar” for Best Picture. Clooney is duking it out with Jeff Bridges for Best Actor, while Kenrick and Farmiga are the only real challengers to Mo’Nique in the Supporting Actress category. And as I said earlier, the screenplay is a lock for a nomination at least.

What I admired most about “Up in the Air” and what will stick with me the longest is how unique it is. It doesn’t follow any conventions, and it’s unconcered with a happy Hollywood ending, although I do think the film offers a note of hopefulness in its last few scenes.

With incredible acting, writing, and directing, “Up in the Air” is a triumph on all levels, the kind of film that should be celebrated. It’s also an important film, and I truly hope everyone will check it out. Of all the films I saw in 2009, this is the one I would give the widest and most enthusiastic recommendation to.

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