Up In The Air is a bitter-sweet tale of modern life. George Clooney is superb in the film as Ryan Bingham, a “Corporate Downsizer” a man whose job is to fire people when the companies they work for don’t have the balls to do the job themselves.
He lives a nomadic existence travelling the length and breadth of the United States like some kind of corporate Anti-Santa Claus leaving shattered dreams and despair in his wake. Not content with this, he also has a career as a public speaker and his theme? Shedding you relationships and travel through life with no “personal baggage”. His one true pleasure in life is pursuing the acquisition of as many air miles as possible.
On the surface you would expect the character to be a grey, grizzled and unfulfilled middle age coporate drone, but that would not be a role for George Clooney. What Clooney brings to the role is a large dose of humanity and allows us to understand that what you do for a living is not always a definition of what you are.
His company pairs him up with Natalie Keener (Anna Kendric), a fresh faced new executive with a big idea to move the company away from face-t0-face firing, to firing people over video conference. Ryan is unconvinced by this idea and agrees to take Natalie on the road to experience the reality of the job they do and unintentionally also giving her an insight into the life he leads.
Firing someone face to face it goes without saying is much harder than you can imagine, and was much harder that anything Natalie was ready for. The whole experience left her distraught especially when one woman she fired calmly telling Natalie she was going to kill herself.
As they journey across the country Natalie struggles to understand Ryan’s approach to life questioning his relationship-free existence. Along the way they also meet Alex (Vera Farmiga) a fellow traveller with whom Ryan is having a casual relationship.
While all three are getting to know each other Natalie receives a text message from her boyfriend dumping here, an irony given the new system she is championing. As Alex and Ryan try to comfort her the conversation turns to questions of what they are seeking from from life and Alex answers are suggestive of Ryan being the sort of man she would be content with.
Natalie eventually returns to the head office to implement her new system. Ryan on the other hand persuades Alex to accompany him to his sister’s wedding. In a pivotal scene in the movie, his brother-in-law to be is developing cold feet and Ryan contrary to all his has preached and the live he has lived persuades him to go ahead, with a speech emphasising how “everyone needs a co-pilot” and how the “most important moments in life are shared”.
This leaves Ryan thinking of his own life and about Alex, and days later purely on impulse he decides to fly to Chicago to surprise Alex. He arrives at her home and knocks, she opens the door to a background of noisy kids and a less than welcoming look on her face. No words need to be said by either Alex or Ryan. As he turns around to leave, in the background we hear her husband call out “Who was that?” and her answer “Just someone who was lost” and that sums up what Ryan’s life has become and how he has has only just come to realise it.
Natalie learns the woman who threatened suicide actually did, devastated she left the company and her programme was canned. Ryan is last seen receiving an air miles reward and returning to the road.
How would I describe Up In the Air? A dark powerful, character driven and evocative romantic comedy, a reminder of how the convenience of modern life can seduce us away from the things that make us truly happy often until it is too late.