(For the radio version please click here).
It took a 31 year old to direct one of the most adult and topical films of the year. Jason Reitman, son of Ghostbusters director Ivan, now has three feature films under his belt. “Thank You for Smoking”, a movie about a corporate tobacco public relations specialist, and “Juno”, a movie about a pregnant teen. They were sympathetic takes on marginalized lives. His third film continues the trend of asking us to care about people we are not suppose to care for.
“Up in the Air” follows the life of Ryan Bingham, who is portrayed by George Clooney. Mr. Bingham fires people for a living; a man who fires people because their own bosses are too chicken to do it themselves. And in our economic downturn, Ryan’s business is booming.
Years of firing people and hopping around the country have left Mr. Bingham with emotions of stone. He enjoys the insincere and forced friendliness afforded frequent fliers such as flight attendant greetings and hotel perks. Any interaction with lovers are likely soulless one night trysts in whatever Hilton brand hotel he happens to be in. When Mr. Bingham fires someone, externally, he is warm, sympathetic and hopeful. He is good at his job. But never do you think he gets sad at the destruction of these lives.
At first, the only discernable goal Mr. Bingham strives for is 10 million airline miles, a dedicated phone line to his air carrier, and a ride with the captain. Fortunately, two women crack his shell of impenetrable charm, and all of them change for the better - sort of. See, the unique talent of Mr. Reitman is turn the story of an emotionally cool frequent flying firing philanderer into a poignant commentary on our economy and an affirmation of roots, family, and love.
Anna Kendrick plays Natalie Keener, a young go-getter who’s business ideas threaten Mr. Bingham’s high flying ways. For me though, the real relevation is Vera Farmiga who plays a frequent flying female version of Bingham. They like each other enough to share flight schedules and arrange cross-country hook ups. Ms. Farmiga is excellent in a well written role; at turns funny, kind, empathetic, and ferocious. It’s a great role played by a great actress.
I beg you to see this film. My parents were in town over the holidays and looked after the kids. So my wife and I went to dinner and a movie. We chose “Up in the Air” over that other film. That other film, the one breaking all manner of box office records, is a technological marvel about nine foot tall aliens that will appeal to the 12 year old in us all. I can’t wait to see it. But please don’t ignore films like “Up in the Air”. It’s nuanced, topical, cohesive, adult, with great writing and acting, with minimal special effects, but plenty of visual charge. Make these movies successful so the 40 year old in us can have something to enjoy too.
“Up in the Air” is playing this weekend at Gross Alaska Cinema, downtown theater. This is Clint Farr, on a date with his wife (!), at the movies.