There aren’t many directors that can make three feature films that are both critical and commercial successes. Somehow, Jason Reitman has managed to do just that with his latest film. With likeable characters and genuine emotion behind it, “Up in the Air” is definitely one of the best pictures of the year.
Ryan Bingham (Clooney) is a man whose spends the majority of his time flying on airplanes from city to city in order to fire people for other companies. He’s a man who literally lives out of a suitcase. In a chance encounter at a hotel bar, Bingham runs into fellow frequent flier Alex Goran (Farmiga). They develop an unlikely bond and have a one-night stand. They exchange information and agree to meet up at a later, more convenient date. Bingham returns to corporate headquarters where a meeting about a new firing technique is taking place that would permanently ground employees who travel from city to city to relieve others of their jobs. Behind this new method is Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a plucky, high-spirited Ivy League graduate. Bingham feels she doesn’t know a thing about the business of firing people and is offered the opportunity to be back in the air, albeit with Keener to tag along, which Bingham grudgingly accepts.
There isn’t a false performance in the film. All of the actors work wonderfully together. Whether Bingham is interacting with his fling, his protégé or his boss, every scene is just as flawlessly played out as the last. Clooney’s performance is dignified, likeable and a person the viewer wants to see rise up from his disenfranchised life. Although many may only remember her from Scorsese’s “The Departed,” Farmiga continues to prove herself as a very capable actress who can stand her ground with the best of them. I’m hard-pressed to make a choice over who stole the show more: Jason Bateman or Anna Kendrick. Playing Bingham’s boss, Bateman brings the perfect amount of smarmy corporate sleaze to his character just as much as he does subtle charm. Kendrick, on the other hand, is cute, idealistic and professional who also contains a blend of both morals and initiative. Bateman might be the winner here if it weren’t for Kendrick’s karaoke scene where she sweetly sings “Time After Time.”
Those who have seen the trailer and assumed that “Air” is nothing more than a light comedy will find themselves both smiling and cringing at the same time. Serious themes are dealt, a few of which include regret, disappointment and misguided idealism. The antepenultimate scene for Kendrick is haunting in its brevity and look of complete defeat. Those also looking for a happy ending where situations are resolved will want to maybe go see a different film. It’s not as heartwarming as “Juno” nor is it as hilarious as “Thank You for Smoking.” It’s something much more mature and introspective than either of those films.
Reitman is quickly proving himself to be one of the best directors of his generation. He’s already outgrown his father’s shoes and will more than likely be a force to be reckoned with in the future. With Academy Award nominations practically guaranteed, Reitman will undoubtedly find himself in contention with good odds to win. Whether he deserves it or not is up for debate. Even if he doesn’t win, he’ll be up there sooner or later.
The topical aspect of unemployment may hit too close to home for some to bear, but for all others, “Air” is a welcome comment on the lack of human connection that technology brings us and the desperation we can feel when searching for something to make us feel anything.