Editor's note: At press time, we were notified that the Indianapolis release date for Up in the Air has been moved from December 18 to Christmas Day.
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is living the dream. He spends his days flying from one city to another, enjoying the perks of each airport. Because of his massive number of frequent flier miles, he gets special greetings, express service and access to executive lounges. Ah, airports! In each town he savors the hotel experience, while taking advantage of the many amenities. Ah, hotels! And amenities! Ryan is very social, comfortable in the fleeting nature of his encounters with fellow travelers. He packs lightly — excess baggage weighs you down. He is charming and urbane, and the people in the airports and hotels and lounges treat him with the proper respect.
His job, by the way, is to fire people in the most effective way possible. He is a corporate hatchet man for executives too yellow to do the deed themselves and he is skilled at his job. He also picks up women during his travels for short, sweet unions. His current favorite is Alex (Vera Farmiga), who is like a female version of him.
All is well for Ryan until his boss (Jason Bateman) tells him he's about to be grounded, because Natalie (Anna Kendrick), some young upstart, has convinced the boss that the company can save a lot of money by doing their firing by video conferencing from their headquarters. As if the news isn't traumatic enough, Ryan must take Natalie with him, showing her how he does his job so that she can make him redundant in the most efficient fashion.
I usually don't describe the set-up for a movie in such detail, but with Up in the Air, reading the description, knowing that George Clooney stars and learning that the director is Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You for Smoking) tells you almost all you need to know.
Up in the Air is as edgy as Thank You for Smoking and as funny and tart as Juno without suffering from that film's excess glibness. Ryan is glib as hell, to be sure, but credibly so. Clooney was born to play the role. Sometimes his charm, looks, killer smile and reassuring-smoothie nature can be a bit much, but his movie-star-with-a-twinkle-in-his-eye persona fits perfectly in this context. When a relative maintains that Ryan has a deep-seated fear of commitment and Ryan insists that he is not rationalizing, but rather celebrating a valid lifestyle choice, the case he makes is at least as well-presented as that of his kin. As Alex, Vera Farmiga is just as appealing as Clooney, and Anna Kendrick is winning as the abrasively confident, easily bruised newcomer.
Reitman and Sheldon Turner co-wrote the screenplay, based on the novel by Walter Kirn, and the result is a dandy existential comedy-drama, not too light, not too dark. The film is breezy, entertaining, insightful and slick — can Reitman make a movie that isn't slick? Incidentally, despite the relationship between Ryan and Alex, this is not a romantic comedy. Parts of the story fit the rom-com template, but the filmmakers don't color within the lines.
Something you should know about the fascinating, often heartbreaking scenes of people getting fired and/or commenting on their dismissal. Some of them are played (beautifully) by character actors like Zach Galifianakis and the wonderful J.K. Simmons, but a number of those describing their firings are real people recounting real incidents.