The Players: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick
The Makers: Jason Reitman (director, writer), Sheldon Turner (writer), Paramount Pictures
Based on: Novel Up in the Air by Walter Kim, 2001
Run time: 108 minutes
Extras: Deleted scenes, commentary with Jason Reitman, a few gag reels
Ryan Bingham (Clooney) is more than a seasoned traveller - he spends more time up in the air than he does on the ground, travelling the United States daily as a corporate downsizer (fancy talk for someone who fires people professionally). He plane-hops around the country with a stack of "information packets" and a well-rehearsed party line. Bingham is professional, smooth and he loves his job because he's just so damn good at it. The other thing he loves about his job? The miles. He collects mileage points for absolutely everything when he travels, and his secret goal is to collect ten million miles.
A chance meeting in an hotel bar with business woman Alex Goran (Farmiga) has them comparing membership mileage cards and swapping travel stories about the best car rental places, the best hotels and the best way to earn more miles. They begin an affair, trying to synch up their schedules whevener they know they'll be i nthe same city, and they both seem perfectly happy with this arrangement.
A sudden request from his boss, Craig (Jason Bateman), for him to come into the office for a meeting reveals his wings are being clipped and he's being grounded, so to speak. Bingham and his fellow corporate downsizers are introduced to Natalie Keener (Kendrick), a perky, efficient college graduate with big plans for the company. She's introducing video conferencing as a means of firing people, keeping Bingham and his colleagues in the office full-time. Bingham is outraged, and challenges Natalie to come on the road with him so she understand the personal touches involved in well-rehearsed redundancies. She agrees, and they set out on a sort of road trip, travelling from place to place, firing employees from different companies.
For a film that focuses mainly on three characters, the storyline is surprisingly well written. Ryan is self-assured and smooth, Alex is confident but guarded, and Natalie is naïve but determined. What is surprising, though, are the depths of Bingham's character that are gently revealed, piece by piece as the story develops. Instead of a business man hardened by life in the air and uninterested in personal connections, we see his quiet desire for companionship as his relationship with Alex progresses. When she accompanies his to his youngest sister's wedding, his reticient, previously unrealised regret of not being around his family is subtly illustrated through touching rehearsal dinner and wedding day scenes.
The character of Natalie is the standout through, and it's no surprise Kendrick was nominated for an Oscar in this supporting role. At times she's so determined it seems as though she's poised to take over the company at any second. Just as quickly though, she reverts to the typical early twenty-somethings girl who dreams of marrying the man of her dreams and settling down. She's still finding her feet in the world after college, and Kendrick portrays Natalie's naïvety and self-assuredness with ease (and often at the same time in any given scene).
Given that this was released as the world recovers from the GFC, it's contextual significance speaks volumes to viewers. I was completely immersed in this film, and I think Reitman did an exceptional job with it. The story never meanders, the characters are engaging and likeable, and it swings between a romcom and a coming of age story quite nicely, without being too patronising. I can't recommend this film highly enough!
In a word: Excellent.