Up in the Air
Jason Reitman is one of the hottest young comedic filmmakers working today, thanks to the enormous critical success of his first two studio movies: “Thank You for Smoking” and “Juno.” Not too many directors begin their careers with a pair of charming comedies that almost everybody likes.
“Up in the Air” is supposed to be Reitman’s big leap forward into more mainstream adult fare. He even landed an A-list actor: George Clooney. According to the critics, he succeeded. “Up in the Air” is his most acclaimed movie to date, and it has been nominated for countless awards.
I think “Up in the Air” is a disappointing, depressing failure. Reitman once again has created a delightfully quirky and lovable hero, like Ellen Page’s Juno and Aaron Eckhart’s Nick Naylor from “Smoking.”
But this time, Reitman introduces us to a great character only to completely tear him down.
Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham: world-class business traveler. His job is fly around the country 330 days a year, firing people whose companies are too cowardly to do the dirty work themselves.
Ryan doesn’t exactly like the job itself. He’s not a monster!
But he does love the lifestyle. He takes pure and genuine pleasure in the process of traveling: the relaxing flights, the lovely hotels, the cushy rental cars that are always waiting for him in a new city. Ryan truly appreciates the ease with which he can get everything he needs just by swiping one of his many frequent-traveler VIP cards.
The guy’s got it made. He doesn’t have a single responsibility in the world other than doing his job well (which he does) and enjoying every moment of his travels (which he definitely does). The first half of the film is really positive and enjoyable. You can’t help but like and admire the guy.
The crisis begins when an upstart new executive at his company decides that it will be more efficient to fire people via video conference. And Ryan’s life gets more complicated when he falls in love for the first time. Suddenly, Ryan’s lifestyle of complete freedom is at risk.
“Up in the Air” reminded me of last year’s overlooked independent gem “Big Fan,” about a loser from Staten Island who has ignored all of the usual routes to happiness and normalcy to become the world’s biggest New York Giants fan.
Just like in “Up in the Air,” the lead character in “Big Fan” suffers a crisis of faith that makes him question his values and his whole existence.
“Big Fan” ends with our football fanatic hero worse off than ever. He’s still alone and he’s in jail for crimes committed against an Eagles fan (it’s pretty funny). But he is happy because his love of the Giants has been restored and life has meaning again.
In contrast, “Up in the Air” ends with Ryan getting everything he ever wanted. But now he is completely unable to enjoy it. Not only is Ryan’s 180 degree change of heart unrealistic, it is unnecessarily depressing.
Why create a character as cool and likable as Ryan Bingham only to completely discredit him and tear him down? I don’t get it and I didn’t like it.