Once in a long while comes a film that you'll tremendously enjoy because it engages on many levels through an extremely smart story, with wonderfully designed characters, and themes that you can easily identify with straightaway. Jason Reitman seems to be on a roll here, with Juno and Thank You For Smoking being great films that I've come to enjoy (particularly the satirical latter) and he delivers yet again with Up in the Sky.
From time to time I dwell on the what-ifs of having being told to walk. Given the jittery economic climate the last few years, anything's really possible, and yes I've got to admit I've got a plan B set up, a dream that would be put into execution in the event I'm sitting across someone who's reading me the marching orders. Then again, why wait for something to happen before pursuing what one really wants to do? I guess it's what they call it as the comfort zone.
George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham, a man with an interesting job yet one which most people loathe - telling people that they're given the pink slips, and essentially that they're considered surplus and no longer required by their companies. He's a corporate down-sizer for hire, where companies with pussy managers hire his company's expertise, to do the marching orders on their behalf. Which means his type gets to travel frequently to where they are required, and in which case chalk up frequent flier miles by the thousands. In my opinion, not the bad job scope given being on the road most of the time (those who hate to live out of the suitcase need not apply), though one that has to come with plenty of EQ and sensitivity, since you're the harbinger of bad news, and have to face the brunt of mostly surprised employees being told their worthless.
Which of course through the years Ryan would have formulated his game strategy to deliver the message softly, sugar-coating it all, and as an occupational hazard develops this fetish for plastic cards for convenience, miles and a major one being unable to hold down a stable relationship because of his nature of not always being around friends and family. And I actually share his attitude towards expectations that stem from relationships, preferring to be winging it alone rather than to surrender that sense of freedom, although time and again one might just feel the need to belong to somebody else. But of course we’re not identifying with Ryan just because of his single status, but also because of the comical, quirky mantras he lives by in his jet setting career, offering some keen insights to the very rote manner in which he travels from plane to hotel and back again.
Things are set for some change when his boss Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) gets smitten by some textbook cost cutting measures (which manager wouldn’t?) presented by Ivy Leaguer Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), and hires her to execute her plan, involving the use of technology to remotely fire someone on the other end of the webcam. Of course this means the total disruption to Ryan's comfortable lifestyle, with a hint that it'll make them all redundant in due course, when the need for face to face interaction ceases, in what would be a totally impersonal, not to mention the lack of moral decency and respect for the staff one is about to let go.
But because with any technological plans come the need to understand the process and the business in which technology will be employed, so Natalie gets attached to Ryan since she has zero real world experience being fresh out of college and all, and in showing her the ropes come more opportunity for comedy, as well as to dig deeper into the characterization. The best scenes of course come from their interaction, and the three way conversation that they have with Ryan's new found fleeting girlfriend, Alex (Vera Farmiga). when they touch upon the decisions one makes on relationships, whether it be willing to commit, or prefer to be free from the shackles of relationships and emotional routine.
Ultimately, the film talks about the moral courage for changes to be made in one's life. We all get complacent in our zones of comfort, and can become quite the creature of habit, seeking solace in routine and things we're familiar with. Branching out isn't easy and comes with innate fear which we must overcome, sort of like the backpack motivational talks Ryan gives, where we tend to pile our life with so much junk that it's always hard to let go of things, to lighten our load, and find new meaning and adventure. And on the relationship front, one character finds himself falling into a relationship, while another finds herself getting out of one but not by choice, offering a nice little opposing parallel when put side by side.
Up in the Air deserves every single accolade that it has won thus far, and surely this flies up into my initial shortlist of favourite films of the year. No prizes for guessing which movie I’m rooting for in this season’s Oscar race for Best Adapted Screenplay for its incredibly well crafted story. Highly recommended, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you miss this on the big screen!