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Friday, June 21, 2024
The Observer

Up in the Air' Lifts Audience with Comedy, Drama, Romance

Due to the recent troubles in the economy, many people turn to movies as a form of escape from their problems. Travels to far-off lands, action-packed sequences and passionate romances fill the screen, taking the audience on a journey out of their lives.

"Up in the Air" does not have any of those things, but it's all the better for that. Lately, few films have attempted to capture the feeling of life in America today. Writer and director Jason Reitman ("Juno," "Thank You for Smoking") successfully presents a timely portrait of America that connects with every member of its audience.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) makes a living by firing people. His company employs corporate downsizing experts, who are then hired by other companies who are incapable of performing their own large lay-offs. Ryan spends most of his year flying across the United States with barely any personal relationships. He is not close to his family, seems to have no friends and is disinterested in settling down with a significant other. The odd thing is, he loves his lifestyle. Ryan even gives motivational talks while on the road about getting rid of personal baggage like relationships and possessions.

Ryan's lifestyle is forced to change when a young upstart, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), joins his company and presents a plan to cut costs by taking all representatives off the road permanently. She shadows Ryan for a few months to gain experience, and both learn important lessons from each other. Along the way, Ryan starts a casual relationship with a fellow frequent-flyer (Vera Farmiga), who is basically a female version of himself.

With what sounds like a depressing topic, Reitman seamlessly makes "Up in the Air" equal parts comedy, drama and romance. There are many comedic moments, especially when Ryan tries to adapt to Natalie's presence on the road. Natalie and Ryan have many clashing viewpoints and are at different stages in their life, which leads to some very interesting and funny interactions.

Along with the comedy, there are poignant moments. Most of the people fired in the film are actual people who were recently laid off. Reitman made a smart decision, as this brings true emotion and gravitas to the film that could not have been portrayed nearly as well by actors. Everyone knows how hard it is to be let go, either through personal experience or through friends and family members. Nothing feels overdone or phony in the film, but perfectly real and representative of the experience of many Americans at this time.

Adding to this is the flawless acting by the main characters. Clooney shares many characteristics with Bingham, from his charisma to his bachelor lifestyle. And face it, if you had to be fired, you would want George Clooney to do it. Farmiga does an excellent job as the sultry woman Ryan starts to fall for, even though it is against his philosophy. But the most exciting presence in "Up in the Air" is Kendrick, a newcomer whose other major work is in the "Twilight" series. Kendrick plays Natalie as uptight, a bit annoying, but in the end charming, altogether forming a totally believable character. All three deserve the Oscar nominations they will probably get.

"Up in the Air" presents a lasting message of the importance of human connection. It is a classic film that encompasses all the joy, sadness, thoughts, feelings, ups and downs of living in America at this time. Years from now, this film will still hold up and will give viewers an accurate impression of life as we know it today.