Up in the Air
Jason Reitman. I think I'd like to strangle him. At thirty-two years old, he's made exactly three films: Thank You For Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air. Each perfectly tiptoes the line between comedy and drama, each show immaculate control of the medium, and they're only getting better. I'm jealous, Mr. Reitman. I'm very jealous.
Up in the Air follows the exploits of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a corporate shark whose job entails flying around the country, firing employees for companies without the stones to do it for themselves. A self-described loner, in his spare time, he delivers motivational speeches on how to live without obligations. His world is shaken by the introduction of two women with whom he can't help but connect: Alex (Vera Farmiga), a fellow road warrior who describes herself as Ryan "with a vagina," and Natalie (Anna Kendrick), an up-and-coming business ingenue whom Ryan must teach. Both relationships come together to facilitate a completely believable character arc that lights the fire under the film's fast-moving two hours.
Director Jason Reitman is a master of balance. Up in the Air jumps easily between comedic interludes and taut relationship drama, all while being liberally spiced with contemporary relevance. All the tonal balance in the world, however, would be for nothing without the film's fantastically literate screenplay. The dialogue is consistently witty, incisive, and overall worth hearing. If this doesn't win the Adapted Screenplay Oscar, then something is very, very wrong with the universe.
The actors across the board take advantage of such a boffo screenplay. Anna Kendrick is particularly impressive as Natalie; her character attempts to be the consummate professional, but, every now and again, cracks begin to show. Kendrick's performance is subtle, beautifully controlled, and moving. Clooney provides her perfect foil: he's as jaded and quiet as she is optimistic and upbeat. The two will easily land nominations the morning of February 22nd. Vera Farmiga also turns in an interesting performance: the script doesn't give her as much to do as Kendrick and Clooney, but Farmiga runs with what she has (much like she did in The Departed), turning a character written with less depth into a singularly believable individual.
Up in the Air hits all the right spots in all the right ways: the laughs are big, the events are plausible, and the drama is engrossing. Some might complain about the open-ended ending, but I say this: Up in the Air isn't about events or plot. What happens to the characters in the end isn't that important. No, the film is about the people themselves; how they change, who they've become. Does it matter what they do after the movie? No. What matters is that they aren't the same people they were at the beginning of the film. Jason Reitman continues his solid gold streak: this is one of the year's best films.