Ryan Bingham is not a man you want to meet. Not because he is unlikable, which he sometimes tries to be, but because Ryan fires people for a living. He flies from city to city, firing employees for companies too afraid to do it themselves. After so many years in the air, his sole personal ambition is to reach a million frequent flier miles, a feat only seven people have accomplished. Ryan lives a solitary life and wouldn't have it any other way.
But Ryan's life is turned upside-down with the arrival of Natalie, a young upstart at his company who pulls him off the road and threatens to outsource his job to a new video-chat system. His last chance to save his jet-setting lifestyle—and his miles—is to take Natalie on the road with him and show her that firing people needs to be done face-to-face. It's a breezy set-up, ripe for one of those industry manufactured summer rom-coms, but Up in the Air surprises by presenting a film that is thoroughly human-feeling.
Here, we have a movie that takes the time to create rich, multidimensional characters. These are people who make us laugh because they are funny, not players who appear always to be reaching for the next punch line. The character George Clooney has developed in Ryan Bingham is not an instantly agreeable one but he is believable. He's that guy you can laugh with even while you mostly feel sorry for him. Anna Kendrick, who the internet tells me is in the Twilight film series but I remember being effortlessly winsome in the little indie gem Rocket Science, takes the role of Natalie, which probably looked pretty one-dimensional on paper, and makes it feel 10-dimensional.
Without punch line comedy, the actors in Up in The Air rely on smart writing, and this is an intelligent, well-written script. There's a bit of the uncomfortable humor that has spread since the success of The Office, but much of the humor is more subtle, allowing the irony of Ryan's situation to play out to a logical—if somewhat unconvincing—conclusion. It's a shame that after developing such interesting, human characters and avoiding being cloying and sentimental, Up in the Air gently veers towards a predictable finale.
Even with a slight, third-act betrayal, the film showcases a great talent in Jason Reitman, who is a strikingly skilled writer/director when his talents are not overshadowed by the aura of Diablo Cody. With Thank You For Smoking, Juno and now Up in The Air, it is apparent that Reitman has a knack for reflecting our contemporary culture in a way that many mainstream films fail to understand. It's not how many pop-culture references you can throw in, it's whether or not we believe in the people saying them.
Cross-published on Ornery-Cosby and Twitch.