Up in the Air (2009)


Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a flying paradox. I want him to make sense to me, but I’m still not sure he does. A man so detached that firing people from their jobs as his job is simply just another day in the office. This is a profession after all. When your boss is too much of a pansy, give Ryan a call and he’ll do it for you. Ryan will even push past-employees into pursuing their dreams; who wanted this old desk job anyway?

Ryan is a mystery. He prefers to terminate employment to a person’s face, as opposed to over a computer screen. One might think he works that way because it allows him to emotionally connect with the unlucky layoffs, but that isn’t the case, rather it allows him to stay on a plane nearly every day of the year. This way he doesn’t have to deal with regular people garbage, like marriage and spending time with family and friends.

Ryan makes an acquaintance that ends up more as a friend with benefits. After chatting about how elite status and graphite credit cards are turn-ons, Ryan and Alex (Vera Farmiga) turn in to bed together. It’s a typical hook up and after making plans over computers to schedule a new time to ‘meet together’ the two go their separate ways. It’s not a relationship though. Ryan doesn’t do that.

Ryan meets Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) and suddenly his entire existence is questioned. Natalie, a spunky college grad, develops a convenient method to fire employees: over a computer screen. This would save thousands, maybe millions on airfare, but sets Ryan’s way of life at risk. Natalie is of course new to this whole thing, and Ryan’s boss, Craig (Jason Bateman) orders that Natalie follows Ryan on some company calls. It’s time to see someone get released in person and learn from the master of emotional isolation. She’s a bit wet under the ears (if I may use the clichéd expression) and fears that a terminated employee would make good on their suggestion of suicide. She actually has a heart, after all (and also a wonderful voice, I might add).

Natalie questions why Ryan seems so distant, and even as Ryan works to warm up a pair of cold feet, we question him too. He speaks at conventions, hoping to inspire, yet he appears quite devoid of inspiration himself, or does he? Ebert pointed out in his review that Natalie was Ryan then and Ryan is Ryan now, which begs the question, at least for me, will this eventually lead Natalie down the same emotional path Ryan took?

Casual sex seems to be a deal breaker in this one. It leads only to heartbreak; whatever heart Ryan might have at least. It’s easy to like Ryan, but very difficult to know why. A man who conjures mystery and intrigue.

Director Jason Reitman (“Juno”, “Thank you for Smoking”) is in his finest form here. Is “Up in the Air” a drama? Perhaps a comedy? Does it fall outside of both genres?

As Ryan walks through many different airports, sometimes even by reunited lovers, we are constantly bombarded with the phrase, “Thank you for your Loyalty,” a phrase printed onto airline notices nationwide. A visual treat, provided by Reitman to remind us of Ryan’s love for the air.

"There are only seven of you."

“There are only seven of you.”

Ryan finally has 10 million frequent flier miles, a task that only seven have completed. It’s announced on a flight. The pilot personally hands him the card and says, “we really appreciate your loyalty,” A little small talk and soon the pilot asks Ryan where he is from. A beat. A moment later, Ryan looks up and smiling, says “I’m from here.” Where else would he be from?


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