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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Up In The Air (***1/2)



Up In The Air makes air travel as glamorous and thrilling as it must have been at the dawn of the jet age.  For George Clooney it still is: as someone who travels 260 days a year and is a member of the elite programs of his preferred airlines, hotels and car rental services, Clooney practically lives in planes and terminals, and he loves it. Of course he does.  Shit, so would I.  Clooney's lifestyle in Up In The Air isn't unrealistic, but it is the kind of luxury enjoyed by a privileged few who can breeze past the lines in terminals and stretch out in business class with liquor in highball glasses while the rest of the cattle graze in coach.  Up In The Air has a lot on its plate besides a commentary on travel.  Clooney's job is to travel from city to city and fire people (a "termination engineer", because "terminator" sets off Legal), making Up In The Air immediately timely and relevant in today's economic climate. Anna Kendrick arrives at his company as a hotshot hire fresh from Cornell (alma mater of the Nard Dog) with groundbreaking ideas about grounding Clooney and using the Internet to fire people via video conferencing.  Clooney takes her on the road with him and shows Kendrick what exactly it is their job entails.  The relationship between Clooney and Kendrick is deftly handled as they run the gamut from mentor/student to professional rivals, as Clooney is ever-aware Kendrick's success would ground him and his chosen lifestyle permanently. In an especially terrific scene, Kendrick discusses her ambitions and worldview as a 23 year old versus Clooney and Vera Farmiga's life experience-derived wisdom. ("He broke up with you by text message?" "That's like firing someone over the Internet.")  The only turbulence Up In The Air hits is that the lifestyle Clooney clearly enjoys is made to seem so pleasurable that the later scenes where he's grounded and reunites with members of his estranged family are almost a disappointing dose of reality. Director and co-writer Jason Reitman put together a simultaneously witty, tragic, and insightful movie about human connections, be it through travel, work, technology, or in one's personal life.  It's much closer in vein to Thank You For Smoking than Juno, with tart, adult dialogue, no phony sentimentality, and some surprising directions taken, especially in the third act, which at first seemed to be plodding down the road to formula.  Reitman also achieved the unlikely in making cities like Omaha and St. Louis seem as almost as attractive travel destinations as Miami and San Francisco.  Travel lessons one can learn from Up In The Air include never getting in line behind families and old people (they're riddled with hidden metal and never seem to appreciate what little time they have left on Earth).  Instead, line up behind the Asians: they pack light, they move fast, and they prefer slip on shoes.  Is that racist?  Stereotyping?  Whatever, as long as it gets you through the line quickly.