Rated R for language and some sexual content, 109 minutes
Affecting, relevant "Up in the Air" one of the year's best
Two years ago this month, the film "Juno" directed by Jason Reitman was released. "Juno" was my favorite film of 2007, and Reitman's new dramedy "Up in the Air," is likely to be one of my favorites for 2009. Affecting, charming and superbly acted, "Up in the Air" tackles one of our society's most relevant issues: corporate downsizing, not to mention personal isolationism and impersonal relationships. It also provides George Clooney with one of his best performances, along with that of a young newcomer you're certain to see more of.
Ryan Bingham's (Clooney) job is to fire people from theirs. The anguish, hostility, and despair of his "clients" has left him falsely compassionate, living out of a suitcase, and loving every second of it. Just as he begins a relationship with fellow traveler Alex (Vera Farmiga), his boss (Jason Bateman) hires arrogant young Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who develops a new streamlined method of firing people - through video - that threatens the existence Ryan so cherishes. Determined to show the naive girl a thing or two about how the business really works, Ryan takes her on one of his cross country firing expeditions, but as she starts to realize the disheartening realities of her profession, he begins to see the downfalls to his way of life.
Reitman delivers one of the year's best dramedy's in "Up in the Air," a touching, often amusing look at not only corporate downsizing but the escapes we take to avoid real, personal relationships. Reitman had actually intended "Up in the Air" to be his first feature, but had the opportunity to make "Thank You for Smoking" and "Juno." By the time he got around to making it, American life had significantly changed and made it all the more pertinent.
It helps that many of the folks that Clooney's character "fires" in the film are non-actors who were actually laid-off. It adds a certain texture and realism to the film than had he used all professional actors, not to mention a whole new level of poignancy. With this in mind, Reitman and Clooney have made a vastly entertaining, touching film about how life can be so impersonal that we're used to it.
Clooney gives another engaging performance that's Oscar-worthy, one of his most layered, and one of the year's most subtly real performances by an actor this year. He finally realizes what a sad life he's leading when he goes to his sister's wedding (amusingly played by Melanie Lynskey - Rose from the TV show "Two and a Half Men") and he's not included in the wedding party (watch Clooney's face and you'll see how subtle the disappointment is) because they don't really know him. The folksy music that Reitman is obviously a fan of and uses considerably in the film only adds to the Clooney charm.
Clooney's fortunate to be paired with the outstanding Anna Kendrick, who you've seen as Bella's few human friends in "Twilight," who gives a revealing performance as the overconfident new employee who becomes a bit shaken by her new job (she has a couple of memorably honest scenes, particularly when she tells quickly tells Clooney off) that should garner some awards attention. Their chemistry and ongoing conversations about life and how the two learn eventually change is among the film's many highlights.
Interestingly, the weaker sections of "Up in the Air" focus on his romance with Farmiga, who delivers a nice turn in a largely underwritten role that takes the film's only truly predictable turn. Otherwise, Reitman delivers another home run with "Up in the Air," a tremendously engaging, entertaining but well-crafted film that's one of the year's must-see films.