Carry the Weight 

Up in the Air is a snazzy, smart entertainment but not without turbulence.

Anna Kendrick and George Clooney

Anna Kendrick and George Clooney

Ten years ago, at the end of a previous decade, a movie emerged searching for Oscar gold. It featured a charismatic lead actor (Kevin Spacey) in his juiciest starring role and seemed to tap into a complacent national mood, something its title (American Beauty) wouldn't let you forget.

Up in the Air, directed by Jason Reitman (Juno) and starring George Clooney, is essentially American Beauty for a different time, attempting to tap into a more restless, anxious national mood. Like its precursor, Up in the Air is glib, smooth, fabulously entertaining in its best scenes and strives for a resonance it doesn't quite achieve. Even the protagonists' names are similar: Spacey's Lester Burnham and Clooney's Ryan Bingham.

The differences, of course, are instructive: Set in a time of relative plenty, Beauty featured a protagonist who had it "all" — wife, kid, nice big house, good job — and yearned to throw it away.

Throwing it all away — well, except for the good job — is what Bingham preaches as a part-time motivational speaker, where he touts freedom from attachments: "Some animals were meant to carry each other," Bingham announces at airport and hotel conference rooms around the country. "[But] we are not swans, we're sharks."

Bingham practices what he preaches: He has a barren studio apartment in Omaha that he sees only a few weeks a year. He really lives on the road, where he travels around the country as a corporate layoff specialist, firing employees for bosses who don't have the guts to do it themselves. Business, of course, is booming. Bingham is unmarried, with no kids, and two younger sisters he barely keeps up with. He is a man without "burdens" and thinks he's happy that way.

Up in the Air perhaps works beautifully as a procedural about modern, white-collar business travel and as a very specific character sketch. Bingham's hotel-bar meet-cute with fellow traveler Alex (a mature, sexy Vera Farmiga), a budding courtship built on rental-car comparisons, frequent-flyer-mile one-upmanship, and a sarcastic, knowing appreciation of industry jargon ("faux homey" = "foamy"), is dazzling. As is a later hotel-lounge scene where Bingham and no-strings gal pal Alex offer a bemused corrective to the firm lifestyle vision embraced by Bingham's post-collegiate co-worker Natalie (Anna Kendrick).

Reitman's film, beautifully scripted within these limits, captures the free-floating fun a self-aware professional can have within this maze of airports, hotels, business conferences, and casual and perhaps temporary acquaintances. It also captures the disconnection that Bingham keeps at bay and the lure of family and stability that he denies.

Where Up in the Air gets in trouble is when it strives too hard for resonance. Making Bingham's travel-intensive job that of a professional axeman is already delicate territory, but by peppering his film with talking-head testimonials from real laid-off and fired workers, Up in the Air invokes a pain it isn't prepared to deal with. The film wobbles under the weight.

Faced with snapshots of real financial distress, it's hard to care too much about Ryan Bingham's emotional journey. And when the film settles on the easy conclusion that it's the family and friends Bingham rejects that will carry you through the tough times, the audience-pleasing platitude is too glib coming from a film where none of the central characters have had to wonder where their next paycheck is coming from.


Up in the Air
Rated R · 109 min. · 2009
Official Site:
Director: Jason Reitman
Writer: Walter Kirn and Jason Reitman
Producer: Daniel Dubiecki, Jeffrey Clifford, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman
Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Amy Morton, Melanie Lynskey, J.K. Simmons, Sam Elliott, Danny McBride and Zach Galifianakis

Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for Up in the Air


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

    • The Florida Project

      Orlando grifters live on the edge in director Sean Baker’s follow up to Tangerine.
    • Unreal Film Festival 2017

      Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy Festival Invades Studio On The Square.


Tiger Blue

#25 Memphis 42, Houston 38

Music Blog

Butthole Surfers and Bad Seeds Salute the Man in Black

Music Blog

Soulsville USA Festival Lights Up McLemore Ave.

We Saw You

Emo and you

Intermission Impossible

Let GCT's Honky Tonk Angels Sing for You

Beyond the Arc

Five Notes on Grizzlies/Pelicans

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Sooth the Pain With All The Rage Documentary at Crosstown Arts

Intermission Impossible

Lipstick Smear: Let Theatre Memphis' "Stage Kiss" slip you some tongue


More by Chris Herrington

  • Last Words

    In "Enough Said," James Gandolfini makes his last lead film role his best.
    • Sep 26, 2013
  • Masters of Sound

    New albums from two of Memphis’ most distinctive stylists.
    • Sep 19, 2013
  • Hayes Carll at the Hi-Tone

    • Sep 19, 2013
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Where To Invade Next

    • Mar 1, 2016
  • I Am Not Your Negro

    Raoul Peck’s documentary brings James Baldwin’s words to an America that needs to listen.
    • Feb 24, 2017
  • Time Warp Drive-In 2016

    Scorsese leads off another season of retro movies under the stars.
    • Mar 17, 2016
© 1996-2017

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation