Humans have always dreamed of flying, but the realities of security checks and bad food have disillusioned us all.
Thankfully, Up in the Air rejuvenates that fantasy of flight, reminding audiences that beyond the airports and the baggage claims, there is still a beauty in the people, places and lives that are connected and separated by a simple layover.
The movie follows a middle-aged corporate grunt named Ryan Bingham (played by Oscar winner George Clooney), a man whose job consists of flying across the country, laying off workers on behalf of bosses that are too cowardly to do so themselves.
What for anyone else would be a career marked by depression and loneliness is, for Bingham, perfection. He believes in traveling far, light and alone, striving to become the seventh person in history to accumulate 10 million frequent flyer miles.
Bingham's independent, airborne lifestyle, however, is threatened one day when his company hires fresh-faced Ivy League upstart, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who creates the means to fire people via an online video chat. With his days in the air dwindling, Bingham is sent with Natalie on his final flights to familiarize her with the art of letting people go. Along the way, he begins an unorthodox romance with fellow frequent flyer, Alex (Vera Farmiga), causing him to question whether or not it'd be so bad to be grounded after all.
The plot may seem simple and quirky to some (not surprising as the film is helmed by Juno director Jason Reitman), but that is where the beauty lies; this is not a typical drama filled with emotional outbursts and throwing plates. Up in the Air is a snapshot of a life and of the events that can change it, if not significantly, then at least enough to matter.
Up in the Air is a piece of polished cinematography; its crisp cuts and lovingly rendered aerial shots turn a plane ride into an art form. The pictorial splendor of seeing America stretched out before us, cars and homes mere dots, only makes it more poignant when the plane lands and the audience is made to remember that no matter how insignificant people may seem from afar, their stories are all important. It's a movie about real life: not only the lives of its characters, but also America's life at the time of a recession.
Up in the Air soars, not because it spends so much time above the clouds, but because it is grounded in people, real and otherwise, and in a time of not only tragedy and human alienation, but of humor, love and ultimately, life.