Young, blossoming directors are fearsome gamblers. Imprinting a film with your personal thoughts on life risks alienating your audience. It's also the only film true moviegoers want to see. Gifted writer/director Jason Reitman's Up in the Air is such a gamble. The film is adapted from the novel by the same name, but Reitman wrote the film over seven years, and after the economy changed, and Reitman matured, he added his own theories on life to the script. The result is a muddled, heartfelt, unconventional film that is also a witty discourse on life.
Ryan Bingham's (George Clooney) job is to fire you from yours. He joyfully spends his life on airplanes and in airports. He is a self-imposed loner who believes that relationships are too heavy, so he has none. Everything he owns can be ritualistically and efficiently packed into a single suitcase. He speaks at conferences on the freedom of his lifestyle. Three women challenge him: An ambitious young woman (Anna Kendrick) who wants to put his job behind webcams to save money; a sexy, fellow frequent flyer Alex (Verma Farmiga) who is his female equal; and his sister Kara (Amy Morton) who is the family matriarch.
There is a kinship between Reitman and Clooney; both are giants in men's bodies. Reitman creates mainstream indies. Clooney strolls from TV, to blockbuster film, to indies, to directing, and garners respect and profit in his wake. Reitman tailored protagonist Ryan to Clooney's charm. Clooney's strength is the rock that grounds the film, while its women, Kendrick and Farmiga, are its tender heartbeat. They all tether the audience while Reitman smears the canvas with ideas.
By the end you can barely make out what Reitman was trying to say. But that's kind of the point. Like good poetry, the bard purposefully imbues the reader with specific emotions. To this aim, Reitman cast real people who lost their jobs to play some of the people Ryan fires. In a world that holds its financial breath for job reports, there is a palpable anxiety that threatens hope and certainty. Everything seems up in the air. Not everyone wants to go to the theatre to feel like that. But Reitman genuinely tries to make you smile in spite of it all.