Up in the Air Review: A Relevant and Tactfully Handled Reflection on Loneliness and Human Connection

It is always difficult for a film to broach a sensitive subject that holds a great amount of emotions tied up in current times and be successful. With the current recession and an increase in unemployment Jason Reitman’s new film Up in the Air couldn’t have come at a better time. Burdened with the unfortunate yet ironic circumstance of an economic recession that parallels the very plot in his film, Reitman was able to quickly change the film’s tone and deliver a film that treats these depressing times with some tact and gentleness. Reitman is able to fashion a reflective film around the uncertainty of life in relation to jobs, relationships, or personal goals using a protagonist who is obsessed with his own lifestyle and is about as close to any human being as his plane is to the ground. There are a few weaknesses in the film with its delivery and has a hard time finding where its going throughout but this doesn’t deter from its ability to be an enjoyable film and give a sign of hope during tough times especially in regards to those who have lost their jobs. The film never makes anyone out to be evil during economic downturns but rather unfortunate circumstances can bring opportunities, which is handled at first as just a comforting line and turns into a brimming reality. Unfortunately Up in the Air will get far too much academy award recognition only because of its subject matter and not for its artistic credibility but overall it’s a good film that is tasteful and contains a successful cast and a generally good story.

This story deals with a self-centered business man named Ryan Bingham who loves traveling and where his destinations take him is firing employees whose bosses are too afraid to do it themselves. The Cary Grant-esque George Clooney has his undeniable charm yet he is able to give a performance that at times has genuine emotions, either struggling honesty or exposed vulnerability. Ryan lives a casual life finding solace in the most uncommon of places: an airplane. He travels yet doesn’t experience his destinations; he works but only cherishes the benefits of flying. However, his lifestyle and personal goal of being the 7th only person to obtain the 10 million frequent flyer miles is jeopardized when a young Cornel Graduate, played by a young but talented Anna Kendrick, tries to globalize their business, which means firing over the internet rather than spending on travel and hotels. The fear of becoming obsolete in the company only hits Ryan with the very fact that his job, or the complacency of what his job is defined to be, is at risk of being taken away only after he has met the girl of his dreams, played by Vera Farminga, who also travels a lot and lives an incredibly casual life. Ryan treats his family as though they are worse than strangers and has an inability to get close to anyone, which is quite evident in his speaking seminars about emptying your backpack full of those close to you, including possessions because everything can weigh you down. Eventually that weight is what’s missing from Ryan’s life. With nobody to be close to once the threat of his job security comes into place he desperately moves quickly to grab onto what he can without contemplating the risk that is involved with human connection. This makes for an interesting although rather predictable conclusion but is handled well and is convincing nonetheless.

While Ryan is somewhat of a rarity in the situation he’s in what he represents isn’t so uncommon. In our society where earning a living takes precedent over living your dreams many people live surface level lives out of a suitcase traveling and are at a distance from what really matters: family, friends, life experiences, etc. Ryan only has one small suitcase, an empty apartment, and no communication with his family as they continue to attempt minor gestures of familiarity. Unlike Reitman’s Juno where everything from parental reaction to teen dialect seems unreal and far fetched he embraces an exaggerated reality in Up in the Air that can resonate on a personal and familiar level with most audiences. The laying off scenes are exceptionally real and believable with such examples as a father in his middle age fearing the loss of his house and the difficulties of raising his kids or woman who calmly threatens suicide as her plan of action. Even select intentionally comedic scenes with actors Zach Galikinakis and J.K. Simmons still contain a believable tone and delivery so the scenes never get repetitive nor do they become forceful. But if there was a problem with the film it’s Reitman’s immediate change in his film’s tone from comedy to drama in light of the current economic crisis. It still gives a light of hope but the duality of the film can be felt as it goes from one scene of comedy to another of gripping drama. It’s not a drastic fault but it still is noticeable in the end.

There is a lot to be said in Up in the Air, which is why it will definitely get some academy award recognition and audience attendance in the theaters. It’s not that it’s incredibly contemplative nor is it drastically real, but it handles a common problem of unemployment with grace and gives a chance for opportunity to be had in the light of tragedy. Sometimes we hold onto the complacency of having a job even one that we hate because it provides security but that kind of security can always be thrown up in the air. Just like Ryan Bingham we live our lives in our own way never paying attention to those around us. We might not be as disconnected from life as he is but there is a similarity that is undeniable. As Ryan talks with his sister’s fiancé (Danny McBride) about life’s moments and how the best of times were not experienced alone there is something to take away from that discussion. There is not a person who can look back at the times of being in solitude and say they were better than experiencing it with friends, family, or meeting new people. This message is pretty blatant throughout the film but it’s still something to be considered and Clooney’s performance does reveal that eye opening moment of wanting more than just his surface leveled life. This will definitely be a film that relates to audiences more so than many films out as of now, which attribute to its success even if it’s not the best made film of the year, a stand this writer will take.

Jason Reitman’s work can be seen as that of a good storytelling director and not of a great artist. He tells enjoyable stories in relatable if exaggerated ways such as Juno and Thank You for Smoking. Up in the Air continues his trend using an exaggerated protagonist to genuinely reflect the tragedy of loneliness and the randomness of life’s twists and turns. While the topic is something of a downer this isn’t to say that it stays focused on the tragedy of losing a job but rather opens that door to opportunity and embracing the unknown. Too often we are caught up in security and having everything determined for us sacrificing our dreams for a pay check or our family and friends experiences for our own goals. Up in the Air is a delightful film despite its tonal changes and should relate to many audiences while being entertaining for others. Good acting from George Clooney, Vera Farminga, and the up and coming Anna Kendrick aid the promising story and message of the film with tactful direction from Jason Reitman. This is definitely one of the better holiday season films especially in regards to our current economic times.

Grade: B+


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