Is Up In The Air a Downer?

Up in the Air is a 2009 American comedy-drama film directed by Jason Reitman and based on an adaptation of the 2001 novel of the same name written by Walter Kim.  Jason Reitman, who also wrote the script, follows his previously well received films Thank You For Smoking and Juno, with an examination of the human condition as personified by one man’s quest to live out of a suitcase while enjoying a hassle-free, relationship independent lifestyle.  That is until love enters the picture.  Instead of a political satire that pokes a stick at the tobacco industry (Thank You For Smoking) or a witty morality tale about teen pregnancy and adoption (Juno), Reitman explores the theme of isolation in an era when on-line social networking, texting and Facebook friendships provide ever increasing opportunities to replace face-to-face relationships with avatars made to resemble the people we know and love. 

This film is nothing if not topical, and while many were confused by what they thought was going to be another romantic comedy with leading man George Clooney at the helm, it did go on to earn over a hundred million dollars in domestic and international box office receipts.  The film has garnered numerous awards, including 6 Oscar nominations, yet sales and awards are no sign of a widely available story with interesting characters that we root for and suffer with.  George Clooney might be the only actor for the role of a callous, used car salesman type who fires people for a living and remains likeable while doing it.  But for some, Up in the Air was a real downer; maybe it was a little too close to home for millions of Americans who have been out of work for so long they feel fired by the rest of world.   

George Clooney is Ryan Bingham, a professional traveler and motivational speaker who also happens to fire people for a living.  His job keeps him quite literally up in the air and cut off from people, including his family, but he prefers it that way.  If you’re wondering where the comedy is, you’re not alone.  Up in the Air walks a very delicate line between comedy and drama.  No, Reitman hasn’t reinvented the comedy-drama genre or even suggests that fans of Sleepless in Seattle or When Harry Met Sally will fall in love with a protagonist who heralds purposeful isolation and disconnectedness as virtues of the modern era.  What he does purport is the importance of layers in storytelling and while Up in the Air isn’t easily definable it is a direct commentary on non-traditional relationships.  Reitman doesn’t apologize for the ambiguity in his films but rather embraces them as points of interest along a journey that is as familiar as it is undefined.  What he perceives as relevant themes in society is meant as a starting place where characters like us are faced with real world scenarios and decisions that affect more than ourselves.

Up in the Air is not a film for everyone but it is a film that writer-director Jason Reitman hopes will spark questions about the nature of our relationships and the consequences of our decisions to connect or not connect in the digital age.

About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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6 Responses to Is Up In The Air a Downer?

  1. Mary Sayler says:

    This insightful review presents a balanced view of the balancing act needed to live up in the air. The film brought me down too, but George Clooney’s handling of a hard role softened the landing. Although this film won’t appeal to everyone, it provides a quick flight into a world of relationships where seat belts and oxygen masks may be required.

    • rorydean says:

      Hi Mary,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that George Clooney mad an otherwise moody story not only interesting but available. His performance reminds me of my initial feelings about the series Dexter – who wants to watch a film about a serial killer who actually likes killing people? I can’t say I’m a die-hard fan but I understand the appeal.

      I actually can’t think of another actor of George Clooney’s caliber that could have pulled this film off, the balance between a protagonist we like and dislike at the same time. Nice description and tie-in with the theme of the film. Jason Reitman’s previous films, Thank you for Smoking (2005) and Juno (2007) seem solid groundwork for a film like Up in the Air – taking his keen, character-centric approach to storytelling while simultaneously delivering a social message. His latest project “in talks” is called Young Adults and similarly begins with a divorced Midwestern writer who goes home to rekindle an old flame but discovers he’s married with a family, will no doubt breathe life into Charlize Theron’s sagging career – that is if the “in talks” sessions take shape.

      Btw, if you haven’t seen Mr. Clooney in Michael Clayton you should. He delivered a stand-out performance as a corporate ‘fixer’ with a checkered, too-close-for-comfort past who is brought in to clean up a mess involving a friend with far-reaching consequences. The rest of the cast are among the best around, capable and convincing, a venerable call sheet of veteran actors with a lengthy list of films credits of their own – Tom Wilkinson, the late Sydney Pollack, and Tilda Swinton.

  2. Rodney says:

    Agree with you on Michael Clayton; Clooney’s performance in that film is razor sharp, and the film will knock you for six! Re: Up In The Air, I saw this last weekend and was pleasantly surprised. I thought Clooneys portrayal of a man many would dislike, as well as Reitman’s solid direction, warranted those Oscar nominations. A clever, thoughtful examination on the beauracracy mentality sweeping too many big businesses these days, and how we’re all slowly disconnecting from each other through things like Facebook and MySpace….
    Great review.

    • rorydean says:

      Hey Rodney-> Michael Clayton is the sort of film that should make a fan of a non-Clooney fan, that is if they are paying attention. I agree with you that Clooney really was the only connection I felt to Up In The Air, though you might be right pointing out that Reitman is a good director. And the social disconnect is sadly too true. There was a story on local radio today about this very topic – the effect technology has on separating us rather than uniting us even though the notion of ‘always connected’ is such a big marketing strategy. Thanks!

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