Up in the Air is heartwarming yet deeply cynical. It’s also laugh out loud funny and regularly tripped the audience into fits of laughter with unpredictable one-liners. Reitman has a knack for dark wit that lives just under the surface of a film. Occasionally a spiky fin will cut through and catch you off guard. And, as with Reitman’s previous films, the casting is brilliant.
Ray Bingham, the protagonist, is the sort of role that George Clooney revels in: smart, endearing but cynical, and flawed. Like Brad Pitt in his best roles, Clooney has a real talent for delivering beautifully rendered put downs. You know, the sort of responses that make you wince before guffawing and looking at the person next to you to see if they got it. When Clooney is good (Out of Sight, Three Kings, O Brother, Where Art Thou, Syriana, Michael Clayton) he’s one of my favourite actors, and when he’s bad he’s Danny Ocean or the worst Batman in the history of everything.
The basic synopsis of the film is that Bingham is the uber-commuter. Travelling across America conducting the dirty-work of corporate downsizing. Basically, he’s the guy who fires you when your spineless line manager doesn’t have the balls. Ray is married to the life. He loves the hotels, the bars, the flights, and the isolation. And when uppity Cornell grad Natalie Keener threatens his nomadic existence with her sacking via Skype concept, Bingham’s world goes into a tailspin.
Keener and Bingham are thrust together as the old master is tasked with showing the young upstart the ropes. When Keener is introduced to Bingham’s casual lay, the fabulously sexy fellow-commuter Alex Goran, the dark humour goes into overdrive as the generation gap exposes the 23-year-old Keener’s naivety.
Like Juno, the other characters are also riddled with shortcomings. You can see them face up to their life-choices and come to terms with their mistakes. And they all, as with the best films, grow as people. Also, like in Juno, Reitman doesn’t sugarcoat life. Things don’t always turn out the way you’d like. Everyone, including the audience desperate for the perfect ending, have to compromise.
When you look back on Up in the Air, nothing really happens. There is no messy court case, or multi-layer subterfuge. There is no planet-shaking event or bloody murder or even a family upheaval. There are just a few people who interact for a few weeks, yet have lasting impacts on each other’s lives. And I loved it.
People are complex, and we as individuals are utterly ill-equipped to deal with the complicated matter of interaction. Reitman, like the crueler Neil LaBute, doesn’t need a grand concept to help him knit together a compelling movie. People and their contact with each other can be enough.
I think Up in the Air is a better film than Juno. It doesn’t have anything quite as sweet as the affection between Paulie Bleeker and Juno, but it’s funnier and the added sophistication of the characters makes their defects all the more interesting.
Apart from the opening credits, which I found visually exasperating, the film is beautifully shot. Bingham’s impressive competence in dealing with airports, hotels and hire car companies is brilliantly captured in snappy montages. When Bingham is grounded and forced to spend time in his sterile one-bedroom apartment, his boredom and frustration is portrayed skilfully by Reitman. The soundtrack is great too.
So yeah, I know I’m gushing a bit. But I really, really enjoyed Up in the Air. When the final credits rolled I would loved to have refreshed my Costa coffee and experienced it all again. I hope you enjoy it as much. Go see it. *****