Up In The Air: Air Shark Doesn't Do Candygrams

Movie:Up In The Air
Company:Paramount Pictures
Director:Jason Reitman
Starring:George Clooney
Vera Farmiga
Anna Kendrick
Jason Bateman

        There are some tip-offs that a movie will probably contain a large quantity of rant. One is the talent which acted, directed, or produced it. Another is the theme which it covers. Still another is the praise and awards which it receives. So, knowing that “Up In The Air” starred George Clooney, presented itself as “the world according to the frequent business flier”, and had been nominated for six Golden Globes, I entered the theater with some trepidation. Just the same, I did still make an attempt at objectivity, a lot of movies overcome their circumstances. I mean, "whoa", look at “The Matrix”. However, when the movie started with a rendition of Woody Guthrie's “This Land Is Your Land”, I knew that I was in for a treat.

        On the surface “Up In The Air” tells the story of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a representative of a corporate benefits management company. Ryan lives in the air. He navigates the travel bureaucracy with practiced ease. He has grown to appreciate the anonymity of casual conversation with passing strangers. He has a preferred membership card to every hotel chain, car rental agency, and airline. He has a secret desire to rack up ten million frequent flier miles. He capitalizes on his corporate travel by booking himself as an inspirational speaker wherever his job sends him. He even meets and starts a convenient relationship with a female frequent business flier counterpart and seeming soul-mate, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga). His life is a profitable sequence of comfortable routines. Until the day when he is grounded.

        The company which Ryan works for, at the suggestion of young blood and upstart, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), is getting wired. All of the work which allowed Ryan his jet-set lifestyle would soon be done remotely, from the home office, via video conferencing, by hourly employees. Ryan immediately understands that this means that he will soon be out of a job. And this situation is supposed to provide the main point of irony in “Up In The Air” since Ryan's job is informing people that they're being laid off and his company is handling the separation benefit package.

        Ryan won't go down without a fight though. In an attempt to dispirit and discredit Natalie, Ryan convinces the company to send them both across the country and in the field so that she might better understand, and be overwhelmed by, what she is automating. On the trip Ryan reconciles himself to the inevitability, irony, and karma of the change his company will take. He repairs the relationship with his estranged family. He finds closure in his relationship with Alex. He makes himself ready to take his clipped wings and settle down.

        Then one of the people who Ryan and Natalie laid off commits suicide. The company scraps Natalie's plan and sends Ryan back to field work. However, Ryan's victory is bittersweet. He has changed, matured, and now even achieving his goal of being the seventh person to ever reach ten million sky miles rings hollow. Roll credits.

        Under the surface, however, is where the real story lies. And Jason Reitman tells that story artfully and subtly, portraying the American individual spirit as a folk tale which no one believes any longer. “Up In The Air” presents us with one shot after another of American faces in disbelief, fear, anger, and tears as they learn that they are losing their jobs. They worry over their future. They worry over their healthcare. They shrivel, crumpled and devastated, at the news brought to them by the outsourced representative of a cold, evil company. A company which their own spineless, uncaring company hired in an act of shameless cowardice. Ryan is portrayed as villain and corporate tool who self-identifies in his inspirational speeches as a philosophically proud, misanthropic, self-directed shark. Self-sufficient and self-aware he reaps the substantial rewards afforded to such evil capitalist henchmen. To the sobbing mob he leaves in his wake, his reminders of the opportunity that another door opens as the one to their office closes is just another line from the script of the lying folk tale, delivered almost believably by faithful USA corporate tool, Ryan Bingham.

        And as Jason Reitman trashes what he considers to be the big inhuman lie of the independent American individual, he spins a lie of his own. The economic destruction brought about by the Anti-Capitalist policies which he subtly champions are, as expected, never sited as the correct cause for the outsourcing and malaise which result in corporate downsizing in the first place. He instead props up his own versions of an impotent Everyman to ask naive and outrageous questions of “The American Dream” like “Where is the house we were promised?”. He instead closes his film with his inhuman corporate lap-shark standing before an airport departure board pondering where he will next reap his destruction and if his conscious will still allow him to do so.

        “Up In The Air” flies gently up in your grill with its cleverly biased tale of economic woe. But even Left and Right can agree that the economy is sour without needing to agree on the cause. And with that point being agreed upon, let “Up In The Air” keep its nominations, and you keep your money. Who knows, you might have a selfish dream which you want to pursue.

Hollywood, STFU Rating: 4 Hammer and Sickles