Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), is a corporate downsizer, and as a result, a frequent flyer. He has his life just how he likes it: no emotional baggage, very little actual baggage and plenty of in-flight perks. That is, until he falls for the mysterious Alex (Vera Farmiga), and is lumbered with work-partner Natalie (Anna Kendrick).
On paper, this sounds like just the sort of rom com to avaid at all costs, and in any other hands, that could have surely been the outcome. However, in the hands of Juno helmer, Jason Reitman, Up In The Air, became a warm, light movie that is really dealing with the fallout of the recession.
Bingham’s job is to fire people whose bosses are too cowardly to do it themselves, and this could easily have become the focus of the movie, and the tone could have changed to a depressing look at the fallout of the recession. Instead, the movie focuses on what Bingham has lost, or never had, through the lifestyle choices he has made. The airport lounges, where most people just wish their wait was over, are his social clubs, hotels are where he feels most at home, and his actual home is little more than a sanitised box with very little personality.
All of this changes when two women, Alex and Natalie, enter Bingham’s life and he finds that he was ready to make connection after all.
Up In The Air is one of those wonderful movies that has no car chases, is completely devoid of buildings blowing up, but is enthralling on an emotional level. Clooney plays Bingham with a level of composure and aloofness that we have come to expect, but there is always that twinkle in his eye that suggests that he knows more than he is letting on. Kendrick’s Natalie tries to match the coolness that Bingham exudes, but loses in all in one fast, hilarious but heartbreaking moment when she lets her real self show. And Farmiga, as Alex, is the woman that manages to shatter Bingham’s composure and allows him to realise that maybe his life is missing something after all.
We always knew there was something of Old Hollywood abut George Clooney. The way a smile says more than a whole monologue could, the way everything is understated but conveyed through deft shrugs, gestures and that ever present twinkle in the eye. This is where Clooney shines. Underneath the controlled surface of Bingham there is desperation and hope of making the human connection that has, thus far, eluded him and Clooney allows this to happen without overplaying it. This is why the film and Clooney thrive off each other – it is a quiet film and a quiet performance and they are perfectly in sync.
Reitman manages to do the impossible – make airports appealing. For most of us, airports are somewhere we pass through, but in Up In The Air, the generic backdrops of these portals become places of quiet, calm and ease. As well as this, Reitman allows the film to be funny, romantic and uncluttered while gently telling us something profound about the nature of our existence.