Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thank You for Flying

For all intents and purposes, you could say that Jason Reitman’s adored-by-all
Up in the Air belongs to Anna Kendrick, an actress whose claim to fame was a minor role in The Twilight Saga (she plays Bella’s human friend).

Kendrick plays Natalie Keener in Reitman’s take on
Walter Kirn’s 2001 novel of the same name – which, btw, opened at a single Miami movie theater last Friday and is now expanding.

Fresh out of college, she’s bright and ambitious and tightly wound – when George Clooney (what? Clooney’s in this?) asks if she’s mad at her keyboard in one scene, she simply says she types with purpose. She’s also the catalyst to the story, but more on that later.

Ah yes, to answer my own question, George Clooney’s very much in the film, which is, natch, why Up in the Air belongs to him – and rightfully so.

I distinctly remember thinking shortly after I saw the film three months ago that Clooney’s the last Old Hollywood-style movie star.

As Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizing expert, a.k.a. a firer, who cherishes his solitude (he takes pride in having spent 322 days on the road in one year), and especially the hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles he’s accumulated (he’s reaching 10 million, a feat about which only a handful others can boast), Clooney’s all efficiency smoothness and, surprisingly, vulnerability.

Here’s a man who likes to think he’s surrounded, but he’s alone…a nomad with nowhere and everywhere to call home, provided that everywhere comes with room service.

When Natalie enters the picture, she threatens Ryan’s entire existence, effectively putting into question his very relevance when she introduces an innovative fire-online pilot program at their company. Suddenly, he’s obsolete.

They take to the friendly skies to travel from city to city together (including the Magic City!), firing people along the way (in a strike of current affairs-tapping genius, Reitman featured real people in those scenes, for extra zeitgeist value). The exercise serves two goals: Ryan shows her how it’s done old school, and Natalie tests out the new tech.

The most unexpected result is they both teach and learn more about each other, and about life, but there’s no hanky panky involved at all – because “he’s old” as he overhears her say.

That department is taken care of by Alex Goran (the wonderful Vera Farmiga), a fellow frequent flyer miles-obsessed traveler Ryan meets at an airport bar (or was it a hotel?).

Their courtship is quick and sexy since they turn each other on by elite status. When they get to talking, to considering doing it again and each other’s feelings, she (sorta) shocks him when she says, “Think of me as yourself, with a vagina.” He knows what that means, and they play their budding relationship ever so cool.

He is hers after that, which surprises him. She’s making him want to land. But ultimately, Alex makes him – gasp! – crash.

The strength of Up in the Air comes from its being real – everything you want it to be (funny, sad, depressing, uplifting, a realization...). All wrapped into one without a ribbon on it. It’s a rare cinematic treat, and like Ryan you will make a connection.

My Rating ****

Photo: Paramount Pictures.

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