Up in the Air (2009)

by George Watches Things

Up in the Air is a road trip movie. Ryan Bingham, George Clooney’s travel-loving alter ego, always has a destination, but for him, it’s all about the journey. Numerous cities flash onto the screen during the 105-odd minute film, but it’s all building to and causing one temporarily final destination.

Our introduction to Mr. Bingham is quick and effective. He makes Zach Galifianakis cry. Galifianakis gets over it. Bingham returns to his hotel. He picks up his clothes from the rack. He flips them into his suitcase. Later, at the airport, he casually but very quickly takes his laptop out of his very efficiently packed roll-away. He travels a lot. And he fires people. This is his life.

When we’re informed that Ryan’s lifestyle is in danger, we like it about as much as he does. We’ve grown to like the zippy scenes (aforementioned) with his luggage (if not the ones in which he fires innocent people). We like seeing him happy, because the camera knows how to show us his zen. We care about this so much that we don’t even mind the voiceover (although the whimsical introductory music needs to knock it off about 30 minutes before it actually does).

During the course of the film, two women come into his life: one a veteran roadie like him (Vera Farmiga), one a newcomer who comes up with the idea, which is basically Skype for firing people, that wants to kill his way of life (Anna Kendrick). Both mean very different things to Ryan, and the two very different twists at the end of the film involving them are perfectly handled. An additional woman, his younger sister who is struggling financially, but still getting married, comes back into his life.

Nothing in Up in the Air was cliche, yet so much could have been. The conclusion is very believable because the movie neither makes him change completely nor keeps him completely the same. Kendrick and Farmiga’s characters, both expertly played, have helped him evolve. Both of their presences are felt in the lingering final shot.

Next week: Mine.

Special note: The film for August 19-25, Entre Nos, is set to expire on Netflix on July 20. Because of this, Entre Nos will be pulled from having its own week and become part of a later mini-review set, which will come out during the last week in August. Entre Nos will be replaced on the lineup by the documentary Burma VJ.