I truly wish the TV commercial for this movie did not tout it as being the “from director of Juno.” That is selling it short. Or worse. Juno was self-conscious in almost every aspect. Up In The Air, however, is anything but that. It is fresh, funny and touching — and probably marks (I hope) a new epoch in George Clooney‘s somewhat uneven career (What was Leatherheads, anyway?)
Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, acts as the narrator for a simple tale of a man who finds contentment in what others would consider drudgery. He spends as much of his time in planes, airports, hotels and rental cars as work will allow. He is precise and committed (as we are shown this through Wright/Pegg-like editing as he packs his suitcase, goes through security, etc.). If he were a hue, he would be a comfortable, unoffending grey. He uses this muted personality to deliver pink slips to employees at companies around the country. It becomes clear that while he doesn’t enjoy the job, he knows that he is good at it, or as good as anyone can be, and finds comfort in the idea that he is at least trying to lessen the blow.
Young whippersnapper Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) joins the firing firm and announces that the company could save significant funds by laying off employees via teleconference. Horrified at the insincerity of this change, and what it means for his own way of life, he convinces boss Jason Bateman to let him go on one last trip to show Keener the tricks.
Now confronted with a loneliness he has not experienced, and the possibility that he may never meet up again with his airport fling, Alex (Vera Farmiga), he returns to the job with a new intensity.
The movie is very witty, sharp, wry and funny. It is also genuine and touching. The punches are not pulled, even if they are somewhat expected. The setups are not so overwhelming obvious that the audience is just waiting for their fulfillment. The ride is actually interesting and enjoyable. Clooney is channeling someone from his father’s era with Cary Grant-like goofy expressions (see Charade, 1963), and he is comfortable in it.
Kendrick plays an overeager overachiever well. She brings enough naivete to the role to make her vulnerable and therefore sympathetic. Farmiga‘s range in this role is stunning. She and Clooney have an unmistakable chemistry that is a joy to watch. So much so that when she displays a coolness, it makes the audience squirm. It is convincing and unnerving at once.
Aside from the nauseatingly obvious and repetitive product placement of one of the major airlines, Up In The Air has much to recommend it. Finally, someone decided to just tell a good story. And they made it very enjoyable.