In the film Love Actually, Hugh Grant says that if you want to see true love, all you have to do is go to the airport.
Well, chances are good Grant’s never met Ryan Bingham, the main character in Up in the Air.
Love doesn’t even begin to describe how Bingham (played by George Clooney) feels about airports and traveling. He’s got the whole thing down to a science: what and how to pack, which line to choose at the security checkpoint, how much time he saves by not checking baggage, how to make the most of his per diem so he earns more frequent flyer miles faster, etc. etc.
If business travelers are considered “road warriors,” then Bingham, who spends around 300 days of his year on the road, is their leader.
In Jason Reitman’s excellent film, Bingham is a corporate hatchet man; he travels around the country laying people off — a role conceived because managers are ill-prepared and too scared to do it themselves.
As mentioned, Bingham spends the overwhelming majority of the year traveling, by himself, and he detests being at his “home” in Omaha. (In fact, he calls the airports his home.) It doesn’t take a genius to pick up on the obvious parallel here: Bingham has designed for himself a life that allows him to avoid making any actual human connections, and his job involves him severing others’ connections to people they consider a second family.
And then, Bingham hits some turbulence that shakes up his solitary lifestyle. First, he meets Alex (Vera Farmiga), another frequent flyer, and the two develop a relationship based on their mutual love of travel.
Then, a new coworker named Natalie (Anna Kendrick) introduces a termination system that would keep Bingham grounded. When Bingham protests, his boss (Jason Bateman) insists Bingham take Natalie on the road with him to show her the ropes.
Alright, enough plot detail. Up in the Air is such a great, American, of-the-moment movie. The subject of layoffs couldn’t be more timely, technology as a substitute for actual human contact is a hot topic, and the generational shift in the workplace is on many folks’ minds as well.
Mix all that together into a smart, sophisticated, funny, insightful, beautifully-written screenplay (by Reitman and Sheldon Turner, based on the Walter Kirn novel), then film it in such a way to make travel both fun and lonely, and you get my favorite movie of 2009, by far.
It helps that George Clooney gives one of his best performances to date, one that looks so effortless that you may not think he’s acting at all.
Expect Clooney and Kendrick to be Oscar nominated for sure, and I’m hoping Farmiga gets a nod too.
You’ll hear one of the film’s lines of dialogue, “Life is better with company,” a lot in the coming weeks and months, and Up in the Air makes a strong case for why being alone is really not much fun at all. Go see this one, and see it with someone you can talk with after it’s over.
I’m giving Up in the Air a solid A.