At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Up in the Air “09”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Comedy-Drama/Stars: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Amy Morton, Melanie Lynskey, Danny McBride, Zach Galifianakis, J. K. Simmons, Sam Elliott, Tamala Jones, Adhir Kalyan, Ashton Kutcher, Keri Maletto/Runtime: 109 minutes

If there was ever a movie that surprised me right from the word go, and thus becoming a true rarity in the world of movie magic, one that would definitely fill the bill would be 2009’s Up in the Air. Indeed this slice of cinematic pie on first blush appears to be an energetic and at times moving snapshot at the life or void of one of a man who is addicted to taking to the sky. Yet at the same time I can also tell you that this film is more than just that. Rather, this slice of cinematic pie is also an eye opening, moving, and actually quite realistic glimpse at life and everything it encapsulates to say nothing of an expansive, but also narrowed odyssey through the mind of a guy who is confident and comfortable with who he is, but who starts to slowly and surely begins to acquire a fondness for those things that make life the amazing adventure that it is and which by and large can’t be found through a chilly airplane seat or hotel suite. To that end, Up in the Air is a simplistic film with simplistic joys to be found, but is one that is also crafted beautifully well whilst being equipped with an emotional message on how reality can oftentimes touch the hearts of even those who are betrothed to their career, claim a nice airplane seat as their home, and who would much sooner save up on the frequent flier miles than on a nice pile of cash to retire on. Along with that, it should not be that surprising to learn that this film was the recipient of a few Oscar nods since this movie is a well-made film that, like the finest movie magic has sought fit to give us, is able to transform the normal and every day into the incredible by showcasing the spirit of life on an odyssey that has the potential to make a significant impact on a life that on the outside might seem put together fairly well, but is a lot more withdrawn and lonely on the inside than even he would like to admit.

The plot is as follows: Up in the Air tells the story of a man by the name of Ryan Bingham. Mr. Bingham, we quickly learn, is a guy who has been accruing quite the amount of frequent flier miles courtesy of spending the vast majority of his year traveling due to working for a company that has him fire people at various companies across the United States. To that end, we soon see that Bingham is quickly closing in on the incredible milestone of 10 million miles whilst living his best life with no strings to hold him down, a way of life incidentally he takes the time to teach about at assorted business seminars he takes part in when not working. However during a lull at an airport bar, Ryan meets a woman by the name of Alex. A woman who shares his love of elite clubs, frequent flier miles, and all things VIP. We soon see that the duo decide to take part in a distinct kind of romance in that it’s one that depends on them being in the same place at the same time. We soon however that their relationship, and Ryan’s whole life basically, is suddenly thrown for a serious loop when the company Ryan works for hires a young woman by the name of Natalie Keener to try and take the company from firing people in the flesh to ones that are done over a webcam. Thus with our hero’s idyllic life being thrown violently for a loop can he find the same purpose in life grounded, at home, and in a woman’s embrace instead of in a first class seat on a jet, a cold and slightly cramped terminal, and a hotel suite that is anything but personal?

Now Up in the Air is a slice of cinematic pie that may feel superficial in a lot of ways, but this is also a film that both low-key and not so low-key threads for us a much more complex narrative about a guy who comes to discover that how he sees the world might not be as simple as either he has led himself or others to believe that it is. A simplicity incidentally that is best represented by our hero’s distinct motivational speech which takes the form of utilizing a backpack crammed with all the “luggage” that one typically has in their day to day and using it as symbolism to show how these things can really drag a person down and keep them from living life on their terms. Yet whilst our hero is able to put in practice just what he is extolling to people, we soon see that his growing bond with Alex, the sudden curveball his company throws his way that threatens to derail everything he has been working toward, and a trip to see his family at his sister’s wedding give him the chance to see life from a point of view that he had all but pushed to the side and that is made up not of miles and hotel suites, but rather in genuine happiness and contentment. At the same time, it really shouldn’t come as a complete shock to learn that our hero is able to find out that life isn’t what he thinks it is from his elite spot in life since whilst pain and befuddlement do exist on the ground, they are also joined by decency, love, honor, morality, and things which truly make life worth living.

With that in mind, Up in the Air makes the claim that whilst having a life void of pain, but not high goals may for a period of time, how long depends on the person, placate the absence left by typical things in life, it’s ultimately the highs and lows in life that are what it’s all about for people. Indeed much in the same way as a plane takes off and lands, goes from place to place, our hero comes to see that the “real world” offers up similar positives, but is ultimately able to make the heart and soul content in a way that living life one hotel suite at a time does not even if life, much like a flight, can be turbulent, delayed, and even horrifically crash. Suffice it to say that in the aftermath of a long odyssey, the reward for a traveler’s lifestyle might be no more than entry to an elite travel club, but for a life in the real world it might just be something that is much more immersive and infinitely more satisfying. It is with that in mind that our hero comes to discover that life isn’t about those superficial aspects he has come to hold near and dear, but instead about doing something that satisfies you on the inside even if the hunt for that satisfaction will hurt you and leave certain things unfulfilled. Yet that is just life for you since life is about accepting both the good and not so good things, but doing it in a manner that is equal parts respectable, down to earth, and full of integrity. A trinity of ideas that are shown in our hero’s occupation as a company hatchet man and letting them know that there is a life to be found beyond an emotionally draining day or even getting paid for that matter.

To that end, we see that film helmer Jason Reitman is able to give movie goers a full cinematic experience complete with thematic concepts and pathos that provide the viewer with both a light and breezy viewing experience and an immersive analysis on life as well. Indeed Reitman is able to make sure that the thematic concepts on display in this film are able to honest and honestly inserted into the film by making sure they are near surface level to the extent that they are able to keep their reason for being there, but at the same time are unable to completely swallow up a movie that also is striving to be a light, breezy, and just plain fun little movie that is also the recipient of a trinity of wonderful performances. With that being said, this film’s trinity of main actors in George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick are absolutely phenomenal as we see that Clooney is terrific in his lead role of a man who is not a lesser individual by any means despite the obvious flaws he has in terms of his character. Not only that, but Clooney also manages to gift his character with a sly charm and snarky wit that really makes you come to enjoy being around this guy if not really respect his drive and tenacity at his goal and what he does in life. Make no mistake dear reader: Ryan Bingham is not egotistical by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, he is the guy he is, he does what he does because he is skilled and not exactly because he adores it, and has just managed to become comfortable with where he is in life. Indeed it really is one heck of a performance from Clooney as he gives us a guy who although he loves what he has slowly but surely finds himself rediscovering those little things in life that will always mean infinitely more than any first class upgrades or frequent flier miles perks he may or may not earn in his lifetime and does so in a way that is seemingly genuine and realistic in the best ways possible. I would also like to point out that I also thought Vera Farmiga did a phenomenal job in the truly complicated role of Alex since it is her character that really shepherds in some of the bigger developments that this slice of cinematic pie comes equipped with though Anna Kendrick is also terrific as the new girl at Clooney’s company who is not only trying to find where she belongs in this world, but also acts as a sort of yin to Clooney’s yang in that she still believes in the things that he has all but pushed away at this point and who really inspires him a little bit to maybe give those things a try again.

All in all I think it is safe to say that at the end of the day Up in the Air is a phenomenal little slice of cinematic pie, the kind that might be tragically overwhelmed by the big-scale blockbusters in regards to both tickets sold and butts in seats, but is still a significantly better film when compared to a lot of those films. Be that as it may be, Up in the Air still manages to prove itself to be quite the wonderful cinematic viewing experience not just because this movie has a phenomenal leading man in George Clooney, but also because of its incredible talent at blending together 100% entertainment value alongside components of a thought-provoking nature that thankfully don’t mess with this film’s magical, comical, heartwarming, and extremely well-made outside. Indeed in a year that had close to a dozen nominations for the top prize of Best Picture at the Oscars, it might be hard to figure out just which films would have been the finalists if they had gone with their usual amount of just five, but I definitely think it’s safe to say that this slice of cinematic pie would have most assuredly been one of them. On a scale of 1-5 I give Up in the Air “09” a solid 4 out of 5.