If you’re looking for a feel-good film for the holidays, Up in the Air is not it, despite the jaunty nature of the nonstop television ads. Jason Reitman, working from his and Sheldon Turner’s script, from Walter Kirn’s novel, creates an arresting yet ambivalent portrait of a smooth frequent-flyer who has spent his life avoiding personal connections, while racking up the miles by working for a company that has prospered- namely by firing employees for firms without the wherewithal to do it themselves. The film is graced by a winning George Clooney performance as a downsizer/motivational speaker (how’s that for a winning combination) who –when he isn’t preparing terminated employees for a life of “unlimited possibilities”, is motivating others to get rid of the excess baggage in their lives (I do believe there are some not-so-subtle metaphors here).
However Clooney’s dream of entering an elite frequent-flyer club is grounded—perhaps forever—when a young technological wizard (Anna Kendrick) figures out a cost-effective way to terminate employees out of the home office in Omaha, Nebraska. Clooney’s subsequent crosscountry journey with Kendrick, as she discovers the personal cost of firing employees, and a meeting in an airport bar with a fellow carefree traveler and potential soulmate (Vera Farmiga)-not to mention his own sister’s impending wedding– lead Clooney to question his own personal and career choices—even his own philosophy. Up in the Air gets it right in many ways; the smart, sometimes amusing dialogue; the on-target performances by Clooney, Kendrick, Farmiga, and Jason Bateman as the head of Clooney’s company; the heartrending scenes of characters losing their jobs and their all-too-human reactions; the scenes surrounding the sister’s wedding, where Clooney, in a nicely played scene, has to do a different kind of motivating. It is also an unsettling film—the terrain that Clooney covers is rife with emotional landmines—and the choices he‘s faced with—continuing to go his own lone way or putting it all on the line –offer no easy solutions.