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.