Up in the Air
I should hate Ryan Bingham. I got laid off six months ago; he's a professional layer-offer. I'm a 30something never-married woman; he's the spokesmodel for commitment-phobic men. I should hate every inch of his well-coifed, frequent-flying, fictional self.
But I don't.
Because he's not just Ryan Bingham, he's George Clooney at his dramedy best. And he's powered by Jason Reitman, who blends snark and emotion (and yes, a bit of sleaze) with a deft touch. And Ryan's prevented from being a one-dimensional stereotype with witty dialogue, understated acting, and a couple of interesting plot twists.
We first meet Ryan in his nirvana: an airport. Not only does he fire people, he flies all across the country to be the stranger swinging the unemployment axe. While the newly unemployed sitting across the table from him seethe and cry and ask gut-wrenching questions about their future, Ryan sits there coolly—like the wine glass on those motion-neutralizing mattress commercials. Someone's jumping up and down on the other side of the queen-size and it's just sitting there all still and sophisticated. That's Ryan in the face of these emotional displays.
When he's not doing the dirty work of wussy bosses, Ryan's happily racking up frequent-flyer miles and elite membership status with various hotels and rental car agencies. And occasionally doing some motivational speaking at business conferences, asking the nameless masses in generic hotel conference rooms, "How much does your life weigh?" and "What's in your backback?" Then he encourages attendees to winnow out all the unnecessary possessions and personal relationships that are just weighing them down.
Ryan's carefully crafted world of "making limbo tolerable" for the people he fires—and living like it's not just tolerable but perfection—is thrown off balance by two women. Alex (Vera Farmiga) is a fellow frequent-flying, elite-status junkie. And though at first Ryan and Alex share merely a love of platinum cards and adventurous, casual sex, Ryan reluctantly starts to do something new: feel. He begins to have feelings for this woman who's like a female version of himself.
Then there's Natalie (Anna Kendrick), an efficiency expert who's caught the ear of Ryan's boss by suggesting the company cut their considerable travel costs by firing people via video conference call. At the prospect of being grounded indefinitely, Ryan protests to his heartless boss, Craig (Jason Bateman), claiming this new college grad doesn't even know the industry she's trying to revolutionize. So Craig sends her on the road with Ryan, charging him with the task of familiarizing her.
Some hilarious dialogue takes place between Ryan and these two women: Ryan and Alex comparing elite status cards and trash-talking about their various frequent-traveler memberships. Ryan teaching Natalie how to navigate airport security. And my hands-down favorite: Alex and Natalie comparing notes about what a 20something woman wants in a man and what a 30/40something woman wants in a man. All these conversations are wickedly insightful.