Up In The Air
My favorite quote on the Peter Pan complex is delivered by Faye Dunaway to Pierce Brosnan’s brazen billionaire in the 1999 caper film THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR when she states laughingly, “Peter Pan grows up and discovers no place to land.” And that quote is never quite so befitting a character as to George Clooney’s Ryan Bingham in the aptly titled UP IN THE AIR. Director Jason Reitman has delivered another small, thoughtful movie to confront our emotions, as well as our conventions, as he did with THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and JUNO. But he does it this time with the heavy hitter that is George Clooney putting in his best performance to date.
Clooney plays Ryan Bingham as a hatchet man who is contracted out from his company to fly all over the country to other companies to fire their employees, delivering comforting speeches on a smooth transition and likening their firing to a “wake up call” or a “rebirth.” Jason Bateman plays his boss as a man running a firing company in a recession, and loving it, who believes the mileage the company is racking up could be saved through streamlining the process and firing via network video-chat, and brings in a young executive, Natalie Keener (played well by Anna Kendrick), to travel with Bingham and learn the ropes. Shutting off his traveling is heartbreaking to Bingham, as his goal is to earn 10 million travel miles, gaining American Airlines special status, miles he has no idea what to do with when he accrues them. He meets Alex Goran, played by the extremely sexy Vera Farmiga (even a sexy name), another traveler who he meets in hotels as they have a casual relationship. However, through Natalie’s prodding and suggestion, the relationship becomes more than that to Bingham, and he invites Alex to his sister’s wedding, a delightful aside with Melanie Lynskey and Danny McBride. After this wedding, the movie, we think, is about that Peter Pan in Clooney’s character finally landing and settling down, but instead becomes more, and that’s the perfect marriage of director and actor coming together to deliver an exceptional film.
Clooney delivers a performance that seems like something we’ve seen before, in confident master’s of the universe like JERRY MAGUIRE and Nicolas Cage’s Jack Campbell in THE FAMILY MAN, who find their true selves in the arms of a down-to-earth, average gal. He, however, delivers it to a higher degree especially in his motivational speaking conferences titled, “What’s in your backpack?” Audiences will also enjoy a scene in which he turns around a bad firing of a character played by J.K. Simmons (who was also in both of Reitman’s previous films). Anna Kendrick is no powder puff and adapts well after a few rough patches on the road and in her personal life as well as in debating her ideas on life philosophy with Clooney. Farmiga plays her part with a sexy confidence, sweetly at times, cagey at others. The women hold their own in a movie billed as a showcase for Clooney, but make no mistake this is his movie. He owns it.
A week after watching the $500 million dollar spectacle that is AVATAR, I am reminded that movies, though possessing the ability to transport us to and create elaborate worlds with fantastic stories, can also be quietly moving experiences about a man’s travels through life here on earth. And that trip is expertly delivered in this small movie by Jason Reitman in something as simple as the changing face of George Clooney dancing slowly with his date at a wedding. He shows us that Peter Pan may not have a place to land, but that’s alright. Through his trial, he matures a little, he changes a little, but keeps on flying. Watch him fly…and enjoy.