Sophisticated, thoughtful, and intelligent are not adjectives which can frequently be used to describe modern films, but they all apply to UP IN THE AIR, a very enjoyable and interesting movie which is perfectly suited to the uncertain tenor of the times.
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a happy road warrior who loves his endlessly on-the-go lifestyle and prefers to do without the emotional baggage that comes with close relationships. Ryan's job is to visit downsizing companies and inform employees they're being let go. When his company hires a young hotshot business school graduate (Anna Kendrick), who proposes laying people off via teleconferencing as a more cost-effective way to do business, the emotionally aloof Ryan finds himself in the curious position of advocating the continuance of personal, face-to-face contact when employees are given the bad news and handed their severance packages.
In the same time frame, Ryan becomes attracted to another frequent flier, Alex (Vera Farmiga). Ryan and Alex enjoy each other's company when they're in the same city on business, but a visit to his hometown and his little sister's wedding starts Ryan thinking about investing in a deeper relationship with Alex.
I thought this was a terrific movie. It was superbly acted, first and foremost by George Clooney, and tells a story which is quite unusual. It contains moments of great pathos and yet simultaneously manages to be uplifting; at least one reviewer has compared it to some of Frank Capra's darker films, such as MEET JOHN DOE (1941), for its ability to simultaneously be a downer and yet leave an audience feeling good.
The film is completely of its times, whether it's the overarching story of large numbers of people losing their jobs or smaller details such as the constant use of text messaging. The themes, however, are timeless: what's the purpose of life and work, and why do relationships matter?
Most of the people laid off in the film are non-actors who have actually experienced being downsized. One of the employees in a more extended scene is played by J.K. Simmons, who was excellent as the "made for heating and air conditioning" father in JUNO (2007), a film by the same director, Jason Reitman. Jason Bateman, who played the immature adoptive father in JUNO, appears here as Clooney and Kendrick's boss.
Ryan's sisters are played by Amy Morton and Melanie Lynskey, with Danny McBride playing Ryan's future brother-in-law. Sam Elliott has a delightful cameo as an airline pilot in one of the film's final scenes.
The movie runs 109 minutes.
This film is rated R for language and a couple relatively brief scenes with sexual content. Despite the rating, I frankly found this film less offensive and more mature in tone than a couple PG-13 movies seen this year, which I was surprised weren't rated R.
George Clooney movies previously reviewed here: OUT OF SIGHT (1998), GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK (2005), OCEAN'S 13 (2007), and MICHAEL CLAYTON (2007).
UP IN THE AIR is highly recommended. It's the kind of film you'll still be mulling over long after the theater lights have come back on.