December 14, 2009

Review: A Suitcase of Memories – 'Up in the Air'

"By the time you find someone right for you, it won't be settling."

Jason Reitman's third feature, Up in the Air, is by far his most personal film and a logical evolution from the themes addressed in Juno and Thank You for Smoking. The film is a fun, thoughtful supposition on the nature of relationships and their value in one's life. Reitman explores the measures of success in life and themes of feminism and family in an remarkably unique way with a backdrop of air travel and economic crisis.

They do not make films like these anymore. As an adult drama about relationships and character interactions, Up in the Air is filled with scenes of character development and explorations into human conditions of life and love. There is no manufactured romance or mentor/protégé relationship that pays off in some sort of final realization. This is a film of little gestures and character moments set on a corporate backdrop. The air travel and downsizing themes are locations for emotional development and insight.

George Clooney shines in a role tailored to his real-life personality. His character, Ryan Bingham, prides himself as a people person who can fire employees with grace and charm while being a loner outside the office. He shows a vulnerable, lonely, wanting side that propels the conflict and dynamic nature of his protagonist. His effortless charm and candor as he goes through life flying high and never getting to know anyone around him including his family. Ryan does not care for relationships or knowing people past their names. This makes him perfect for his profession, a corporate downsizing expert who flies around firing people for a living. He makes it look easy and does it with class and grace.

Jason Reitman continues to show his mastery of emotion on screen as well as perfectly timed quips and a striking balance of meaningful character relationships that never quite cross an inappropriate border. What Up in the Air does so well is explore the value of relationships. It is clear how much Reitman values his family and friends as developing this project over many years, he went from a wannabe bachelor filmmaker to an Oscar-nominated director and family man. Every moment of the film has a purpose. Some of the most enjoyable moments should be banal. The transitions of Ryan going from city to city and stark photographs of American cities frame the film so well.

The relationships are so well crafted and acted here. Vera Farmiga (The Departed) is absolutely irresistible, sexy, and charming in such effortless way. Her presence owns every frame of every seen she is in. To quote her character, she is Ryan Binghman "except with a vagina". Her character, Alex could easily be a stereotype or static character, but she is revealed to be much more complicated and has much more depth than one might think.

Anna Kendrick (Twilight) completely shines as the heart of the film. As a fresh out of college hot shot, she is this amalgamation of an incredibly intelligent, educated business women coming up in the modern world struggling with feminist values of having it all with a successful career, but aching for the right man and meaningful relationships while not screwing them all up. Reitman uses Alex and Natalie to play off different sides of Ryan's character. Alex is a much older version of Natalie, who after years of struggling for success knows what a woman can realistically have and handle in order to be happy. Alex offers an assured confidence that Natalie learns to build.

This is a first class film all the way. I only wish Reitman explored even more about human relationships. His focus stayed on Ryan and Natalie's characters and their diverging views on relationships. Reitman does that so well that I wanted more. All the background characters, themes, and subplots felt somewhat unsubstantial compared to the main thrust of Ryan's journey. The way the characters solve their conflicts felt somewhat unresolved and not quite fleshed out enough but that was to not give the audience spoon fed answers and a neat ending. The last scene, however, felt nearly perfect in execution and wrapped together the theme of air travel nicely. Life is about sacrifice and important relationships require sacrifice in order to bear fruit. Side characters played by Zach Galifianakis, Danny McBride, Melanie Lynskey, and others seem to only prop up themes of either economic hardship or family estrangement.

Up in the Air is such a well crafted picture that takes a look a the complex needs and wants of human nature and delves in the value of relationships and human interaction. Director Jason Reitman shows his maturity and ability to handle complex themes and character dynamics in a way that comments slyly and deeply into how people live. All this is wrapped in a very nice package named George Clooney and framed with some beautiful airplane scenery and travelling antics. Reitman firmly challenges your personal philosophy of living and building relationships. After all, "Everyone needs a co-pilot."

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