By Sandra Kraisirideja
“Up in the Air” has been one of the most talked about dramas this winter and with good reason. It has a terrific cast, a genuinely funny script and features stellar performances by everyone involved. Finally there is a movie that critics and audiences can both agree on.
Director Jason Reitman, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Sheldon Turner (“The Longest Yard”), proves his ability to handle comedy was not limited to “Juno” or “Thank You For Smoking.” Like his two previous movies, “Up in the Air” combines humor with dramatic moments without being too serious or too silly.
The cast includes George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Danny McBride and Jason Bateman. Clooney plays Ryan Bingham a man who fires people for a living and who travels over 300 days a year and is close to earning 10 million American Airlines miles. Farmiga plays Ryan’s love interest and Kendrick is the young executive who threatens to make Ryan obsolete through the use of video conferencing.
Bingham lives a solitary existence but cracks in the world he’s created begin to show. He doesn’t have grand change of heart and confess his feelings like Tom Cruise did to Renee Zellwegger in “Jerry Maguire,” but there is a sense that Ryan’s changed and that he wants to make different choices. Clooney’s performance is marvelous. Ryan avoids emotional relationships, but he doesn’t do it by being a bully or pushing people out of his life. Clooney doesn’t play him as a bitter, angry, resentful or pessimistic so it’s easy to feel sorry for him. The brilliant twist is that the sympathy is not because Ryan is lonely and desperately wants to have more contact with people, but because he chooses the lifestyle that he does. The audience sees the loneliness in his life and feels sorry for Ryan because he doesn’t even know what he’s missing.
Retiman understands how to create characters an audience can relate to and care about. He obviously knows how to get great performances out of his stars. I suspect he creates a very easy-going vibe on the set because his films have a relaxed, confident feel.
Even actors who are only on screen for a few minutes give memorable performances. This includes the parade of employees who shown using a jump-cut interview as they react to getting fired. The moments are funny and tragic and never feel forced.
Given the year everyone has gone through, “Up in the Air” offers a bit of hope and some refreshing laughs.