UP IN THE AIR
Amid the loneliness and isolation of an increasingly digital world, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) seems to be the only one equipped with an suitable personal philosophy. Instead of lamenting the loss of real human connection, he embraces it, maintaining only limited ties with his family and his co-workers. In fact, he doesn’t even seem to have any friends; he is satisfied just being around people. Yet as much as he rejects the emotional baggage any real relationship requires, he is still a victim of his own humanity and his own inherent need for others – to not be alone. In his job, for example, he flies all over the country for most of the year firing employees at downsizing companies. Ironically, the only thing he seems to relish more than the hubbub of constant travel is his ability to connect to people, to let them down easy. Yes, he may be firing them, but he prides himself by doing it with a certain degree of humanity.
His boss calls him back to base to introduce him to Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a young new employee who wants to take the firing process on-screen, meaning all of Bingham’s work would be accomplished via video chat, eradicating not only the human connection between fire-er and fire-ee, but Bingham’s only access to human contact – airports, airport bars, hotels and conference rooms. In fact, it’s on one of his jobs that he meets Alex (Vera Farmiga), basically the female version of himself. There seems to be an understanding between them, namely that theirs is a strictly on-the-road relationship. If they both happen to have an overnight in the same city, they’ll share a room at the Hilton. If not, so be it. This is a connection-less connection.
UP IN THE AIR might capture Bingham’s clean, compartmentalized and sterile world if only director Jason Reitman could resist crutches of sentimentality like the life-changing realization that occurs in the middle of Bingham’s big speech, prompting a man heretofore unruled by emotion to rush out of the auditorium and to the airport to catch the next flight to see Alex, only to be disappointed upon arrival (turns out she was married with kids the whole time, yikes!). I guess choosing to have an unbelievable and downright cheesey character arc end in disappointment is Reitman’s attempt at realism or perhaps it’s his way of justifying the preceding sentiment, but all it does is take an otherwise interesting and complex character and turn him into just another sap looking for a mate. This is not to say that Bingham shouldn’t perhaps, towards the end of the film, undergo some kind of self-analysis or transformation, but it ought to take longer than a 15 minute airport shuttle ride. There is a definite moral to this story and unfortunately Reitman can’t help but shove it down our throats.