‘Up In The Air’ Keeps Viewers Grounded

by Brandi Giles

Because me and 75-year-old ladies nationwide regularly watch award shows like the Academy Awards, I will be reviewing movies likely to be nominated for Best Picture. I’ll start with a film certain to be nominated – if not win – Best Picture, “Up in the Air.”

One line that you’ll hear when ads for this movie pop up is “Life’s better with company.” Well, duh. Of course life’s better with company; any idiot knows that. I mean, would you drink alone if you had the choice? Would you eat or watch TV alone? Probably not.

The main point is that it doesn’t take a movie to remind us all that that being lonely sucks. What a movie can do, which “Up in the Air” does amazingly well, is highlight this reality by putting it in a context to which we can all relate. The film presents in an effective way the struggle to reconcile our natural inclination to be with each other with our dependence on technology that so efficiently keeps us apart.

In general, the film is an examination of the life of a character whose condition is at once peculiar and yet very common. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a professional downsizer, an occupation that requires him to spend 240 days a year flying around the country firing the employees of bosses too afraid to do so themselves. His duties consist of meeting with these employees, telling them the bad news and offering empty promises of a better future. He never becomes emotionally involved in their situations; he does his job because he loves to be up in the air (shockingly enough), not because he cares about others.

The air is his home, the pilot and stewardesses his real family. His isolated lifestyle keeps him from having relationships with his estranged sisters. But as long as he can have fleeting sexual encounters with fellow jet setter Alex Goren (Vera Farmiga), he is content with this situation. It is only when Ryan’s non-committal lifestyle is threatened by the idea of young upstart Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), to fire people via the computer, that he is confronted with the jarring notion of being permanently grounded.

At one point Ryan’s sister comments that he seems very isolated, to which he replies in the midst of a crowded airport that he’s surrounded. The scene underscores the paradox that we live everyday in this wired-in world of ours. There are more people on the planet than ever, and yet technology makes it so that you never have to deal with the other six billion people populating the earth if you do not want to.

When director Jason Reitman has Alex and Ryan engage in the popular phenomenon of “sexting,” Natalie’s boyfriend break up with her via a text message, or a dedicated employee fired over the Internet, he argues simply that technology is a poor substitute for good old-fashioned intimacy. Further, we must be especially vigilant that we do not mistake one for the other. Ryan learns the hard way that the longer you stay isolated, the harder it is to reconnect. Through the effective use of hilarious, edgy dialogue coupled with vulnerable performances, “Up in the Air” tries to teach an audience of Ryan Binghams that staying grounded is the best way to live.


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