Along with the usual Oscar heavy-hitters, indie film Up in the Air is competing this year for the title of Best Picture. Unlike most films favored by the Oscars, Up in the Air is a genuinely enjoyable, watchable flick that does not get lost in its own seriousness.
The film is about a businessman named Ryan Bingham, George Clooney, who spends so much time traveling that he dreads going home. His character is the type of man that can reassure a complete stranger, convincing him or her without patronizing pity that the future is bright. Traveling around the country, he acts as a sort of liaison for companies that are firing people by delivering the bad news to the employee and then dulling the blow. With his natural dislike for staying in one place, it is no surprise that he has few lasting connections with people or places.
Clooney captures Ryan Bingham’s personality perfectly. Charming and charismatic, he channels the image of a confident man who has it all figured out. Even though his flaws are all too obvious, Clooney gives his character a smoothness that makes the audience adore him. However, he also manages to evoke Ryan’s inner loneliness. In one scene, while talking to his sister’s fiancé who has cold feet, he reveals a moment of vulnerability as his cynical armor breaks down.
The two supporting actresses, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, are brilliant in their own right as well. Vera Farmiga plays Alex, Ryan’s love interest. Like Ryan, she is a perpetual traveler whose job and personal information are never revealed. Throughout the movie, the audience sees Alex only as Ryan sees her, on casual stopovers between different cities, in flickers that never show her true life. Farmiga, a relatively little-known actress who has been in movies like the Holocaust gem The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, demonstrates her versatility as a down-to-earth businesswoman who can still have fun. In a touching scene, Ryan and Alex share intimate truths about how their perceptions have changed with age.
Anna Kendrick plays Natalie Keener, a young and ambitious Cornell graduate with big plans for Ryan’s company. Suddenly, because she and Ryan are working alongside each other, she makes him examine his emotionally isolated life.
Kendrick’s character is still somewhat naïve and idealistic, providing a contrast to Ryan’s cynicism. She plays Natalie with perfection, seeming clever, confident, and a little uptight. By speaking firmly, Kendrick portrays her character’s solid enthusiasm with a determination that suggests she has built up years of carefully crafted plans for every corner of her life.
The true brilliance of Up in the Air is that director Jason Reitman gives an interesting view of the current recession without going in too deep or lamenting it. Each person that Ryan has to fire is a victim of the recession, but Reitman does not linger on their circumstances. Rather, he focuses on the future, showing that people can pick up their lives and move on.
Perhaps even more beautifully, he explores the relationships between three people. Using the three main characters, Reitman presents their views on love and home while revealing truths about human connections without forcing any revelations. The movie is also delightfully witty, which increases its appeal for people who avoid heavy dramas. The result is a story that flows with ineffable ease.
Simultaneously poignant and funny, Up in the Air is a rare film. It is an art film with impressive depth that a normal person, not someone on an awards committee, would actually want to watch.