Up in the Air - ***1/2
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman
Review: About half way through the movie I had already decided that I was gonna give the movie only 3 stars. However, after seeing the rest I bumped it up a 1/2 star, which makes sense as the scene where I decided it was a 3-star movie was the turning point in the film. The scene I am referred to is the scene after Kenrick's character Natalie fires her first person and has to leave to go outside and catch her breath. The person she just fired said she planned to commit suicide and Natalie could not handle having this woman's blood on her hands. However, as he always seems to do, George Clooney's character Ryan comes to the rescue. Ryan explains to Natalie that these people just heard the worst news you could hear and they say "crazy" things and aren't thinking clear. It is their job to make sure this blow is as soft as possible and that those people don't do these "crazy" things they say.
You see, Ryan and Natalie are "Termination Engineers." Basically, other companies hire them to come in and fire their employees for them when they don't have the stones to do it themselves. This has, historically, required a personal touch causing the "termination engineer" to be there in person to let someone go. This, of course, means characters like Clooney's Ryan are always "Up in the Air" and on the road. Ryan prefers this life. In fact, he prefers it so much so that he occasionally has speaking engagements in which he has a seminar about unpacking the "backpack" of your life. His theory is that all of our belongings and all of the people in our lives bring extra drama and baggage and weight to the point that we would all be better served to just let all those things fall to the wayside and not weigh us down any longer.
This is a convenient philosophy for Ryan allowing him to not have any meaningful human connections all in the name of his "new age" "ahead of it's time" philosophy. However, this philosophy gets challenged once he meets Alex (Vera Farmiga) on the road and begins to have periodic trysts with her when they can meet up on the road. After bringing Natalie out on the road and having her meet Alex, Natalie challenges Ryan to give her a chance to be a permanent part of his backpack. This makes Ryan stop and think for a second and the result is him asking Alex to be the date to his sister's wedding.
Ryan takes Alex to his sisters wedding and it becomes a huge success and they both have a great time. After parting ways and Ryan learning that he will be "grounded" and will now always be in Omaha having to fire people over the computer, Ryan decides that she should be a permanent part of his backpack. During a speaking engagement Ryan leaves in the middle of his speech to fly to Chicago and find her so they can live happily ever after. This is where the meet of Clooney's performance takes place. Upon arriving at Alex's door, Ryan sees kids in the background and her husband approaches the door. No words are spoken, no explanation given, Ryan simply leaves with a horrific look on his face. Is this why Ryan preaches not baggage in life? Could this have happened to him before and now he will stick rigidly to his philosophy? This is unclear, but now we know a little more why such a philosophy could be warrented.
Throughout this movie, Ryan and his philosophy are constantly challenged and ultimately Ryan caves and accepts that his theory about not needing people in his life may not be the best. However, Ryan ends up hurt in the end and searching for answers.
Ultimately, I feel the message of the movie is that one extreme is just as bad as the next. Filling your "backpack" with things and people for no real reason that just weigh you down does you no good. However, living your life with a completely empty "backpack" gives you nothing to look forward to and severely limits your ability to find true happiness. In the end, through the events at his sister's wedding I think Ryan comes to realize (as we all should) that everyone needs those things/people to weigh them down a little bit, as long they are the right things/people, so we can be grounded and centered in our lives instead of always "up in the air."