Ryan Bingham is a corporate downsizing expert whose cherished life on the road is threatened just as he is on the cusp of reaching ten million frequent flyer miles and just after he's met the frequent-traveler woman of his dreams. Written by
So 2009, and the decade known as...(what do we call this decade?), are ending later this month. And there is no better film to wrap up a (frankly) terrible decade (in terms of news events, unemployment, the economy, the media stronghold, the trashing and dumbing down of American culture, technology, narcissism, vanity obsession, a divided nation, violence and hostility) than Up in the Air. The film, the best I've seen all year and one of the best of the decade, captures many of the factors that made this decade the worst one, at least in my 42 years. The 70s may have been bad economically but hey, at least we had Bruce Springsteen and real music on the radio, women still seemed to like men and not only if the men were millionaires, thoughtful movies in the theater, and only five or so TV channels to pick from. Up in the Air features George Clooney as a man with no "roots," (that is, no wife, no kids, and his apartment in Omaha is about as furnished as a room at Embassy Suites), who fires people for a living because the companies who hire him are too cowardly to do it themselves. It is a juicy role for Clooney, who has made a career out of playing easy-talking charmers. The film sounds depressing and in many ways it is, but it is also witty, quietly hilarious at times, and full of pathos when it becomes a morality piece near the middle (and like the best morality pieces, it doesn't shove its message down your throat). It reminded me in many ways of American Beauty, the masterpiece that capped off the '90s when it hit theaters ten years ago. Clooney's character slowly is stripped of the things he only cared about--including a one-night-stand that becomes a "Same Time Next Year"-like meeting in Hampton Inns and Hiltons in Miami, Detroit, Wichita and other random cities, with another constant traveler (we never know what exactly she does, and that's not supposed to matter) played by Vera Farmiga, who may win an Oscar nomination for her mysterious, slightly passive and jaded, 30something character. The final important character is an eager young Cornell graduate (played by Anna Kendrick, from Twilight) who thinks that a career in firing people is a wise choice now, and in some respects she's not that far off. Her character represents many of the Twitter-obsessed twentysomethings driven for money money money, who live for texting, and has naive and even immature ideals of what makes a relationship work. But she too goes through a transformation, as Up in the Air reaches a "feel good while feeling bad" quality of Frank Capra's darker films, like Meet John Doe. One of the most amazing things about this film is its use of real people in the "firing scenes;" people who have really lost their jobs several weeks or months before being filmed. Director Jason Reitman combines scenes of these people being fired by Clooney and Kendrick, and their instant responses are wholly authentic. There are a few actors playing the "firees" as well, but they blend in with the real folks. I really can't think of a better film to cap off this decade. This one will stay with you. Highly recommended.
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