Up In The Air (2009)

UPDATE February 21: Up In The Air just won Best Adapted Screenplay at the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Awards.   CLICK HERE TO READ MORE.

UPDATE February 2nd OSCARS NOMINATIONS:  Up In The Air has been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in the coming 82nd Academy Awards.  Jason Reitman gets a nod in the directing category, George Clooney in the Best Actor category, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick for Best Actress.  Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner also received nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

UPDATE January 17th: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner have just won the Best Screenplay Award at the Golden Globes tonight.

Now that we’ve entered the new year, the awards season has arrived.  Only two weeks to go before the Golden Globes presentation, and about a week after that the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the buzz now is around the nominees.  And this one is a good start for the new year.

Watching Up In The Air is like reading an O. Henry story.  The twist at the end makes it hauntingly poignant. But O. Henry probably would not have imagined that a story could be told in such a visually dynamic way.

Following Oscar nominated Juno (2007) and Golden Globe nom Thank you for Smoking (2005), director Jason Reitman, together with screenwriter Sheldon Turner, have created a screen adaptation of Walter Kirn’s novel.  Reitman has crafted an apt and relevant contemporary tale with just the right pacing, suitable for those too rushed to stop for a story.  I’m sure they’ll enjoy this one.

‘I fly, therefore I am’ … that could well be the philosophical stance of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney).  He flies from city to city, doing something most bosses shy away from: laying off people.  Apparently Ryan loves his job.  It gives him the reason to be constantly on the go. One time on the plane, he is asked “Where are you from?’  With just the slightest hesitation, he answers: “Here.”

Ryan Bingham is also a motivational speaker.  He brings a backpack to the podium, an object lesson too vivid to ignore:  the more you put in, things and people the same, the heavier it’ll get, the more bogged down you’ll be.  His warning to his audience: ‘The slower we move, the faster we die.’  He’s the guru of non-committal living.

Goerge Clooney is perfectly cast as Ryan Bingham.  His suave, urbane sophistication is tailor-made for the role. Add in the nonchalant nuances, no wonder his performance earns him a nom for the Golden Globe.

But just when Ryan is performing so well with his air ballet — even his carry-on-suitcase-packing manuevers look sleek and stylish, thanks to some fascinating series of shots — Ryan gets notification that he’ll soon be grounded. Thanks to newly hired, Cornell grad Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), who has developed a video conferencing system for the company, Ryan can now do his job without leaving his office.

To phase in, Ryan is to bring Natalie along to familiarize her with his job.  It’s most amusing to watch the foil between the experienced and the naive, the callous and the tender.  At the same time, the plot thickens as Ryan meets another frequent flyer, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), in a hotel lounge.  Meeting Alex, who seems to share his airborne lifestyle, Ryan’s outlook on life soon faces a major turnaround.

As the film unfolds, you’ll find the title ‘Up In the Air’ not so much refers to the obvious: air travel, but a more metaphorical meaning.  It points to the existential limbo in which we sometimes find ourselves, always moving but never arriving, constantly twirling in the transitory, never coming to a rest.

Further, the film deftly deals with the questions most relevant to us all:  Is the rootless and ungrounded life worth living?  Does the ‘airborne’ phenomenon define the modern man/woman? What makes life meaningful after all?

The dramedy explores these issues without being didactic.  You’d be gratified to see Ryan’s awakening, and empathize with his situation as his path twists and turns.  With its slick editing, catchy music, witty dialogues, and great acting, the movie offers some worthwhile and enjoyable entertainment.

Up In The Air is nominated for 6 Golden Globes: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress (both, Farmiga against Kendrick), and Best screenplay.  I think this will be a strong contender comes January 17th, and will likely soar to the Oscars.

As to which O. Henry story particularly stood out in my mind as I was watching the movie? Without giving out any spoilers, let me just say: when we know we need to change, let’s just hope that we’d get the chance to do so.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

14 thoughts on “Up In The Air (2009)”

  1. “It points to the existential limbo in which we sometimes find ourselves, always moving but never arriving, constantly twirling in the transitory, never coming to a rest.”

    Sometimes? I would hazard a guess it’s the whole of existence, but that’s an existential conversation for another day.

    Wonderful review!

    Errant Aesthete,

    Incisive observation… I’d be most interested to engage in that conversation with you, any day. As for the movie, its excellence lies in its dealing with such a serious topic in a subtle and entertaining way. Thanks for your comment!



  2. Arti, you write the best reviews. I never seem to get to the movies these days but I enjoy reading your thoughts. Your comment about rootlessness and ungroundedness reminds me of an article I read some time ago about people who travel so much, they just ship their dry-cleaned clothes to the next destination. It sounded so much like keeping plates spinning — exhausting!


    ‘keeping plates spinning…’ yes, but Ryan certainly isn’t exhausted. Further, it’s not just his lifestyle but the attached (or lack of) relationships of his life that’s being explored here in this movie. Shipping dry-cleaned clothes to the next destination? Interesting idea!



  3. I was tickled to see that you had reviewed this one, because it was the one holiday movie I was interested in seeing. But then I met my family for Christmas and a brother and sister saw it together and neither was excited about it. Now I know their taste in movies, so I took their criticisms in that context, still planned to see it.

    After reading your excellent review, I will ask my friend Inge to go see it with me – if it’s still playing. Oh no, I don’t know if I can do that. She does not like Clooney. I don’t get that, but, to each her own, eh?


    I’m not a Clooney fan either, nor interested in airports and planes. But I just thought: they wouldn’t make another movie about the banal topic of air travel, would they… so I was just curious what they would do differently this time. I usually chose movies according to different reasons, sometimes the actors, but mostly the thematic content, the genre, and yes, the director. And this time it’s all the reasons except the first one. I’d be curious to know your response after you’ve seen it.



  4. I haven’t seen this yet. I’ve been reluctant to go, because it seems bleak to me, but your review makes it seem worth seeing! Thanks! I’ll come back here after I’ve seen it.


    It’s not bleak at all, quite enjoyable actually. Yes, I await your response after you’ve seen the movie.



  5. Your sense of humor is showing, Arti. I really was tickled by this: Reitman has crafted an apt and relevant contemporary tale with just the right pacing, suitable for those too rushed to stop for a story. Rim shot, please. 🙂

    I’ve been by to re-read this a few times because it was reminding me of something, and I couldn’t surface it. I finally remembered. It has echoes of “The Mid-Atlantic Man”, by Thomas Wolfe, which was published separately in 1969 but is more easily found as a chapter in The Purple Decades, I believe.

    I haven’t been able to lay my hands on a copy – even our local B&N does’t have a copy in stock – but as I recall, the mid-Atlantic man is the new breed who no longer belongs to New York or London, but comes to life only on his flights back and forth across the Atlantic.

    If I can find the book and carve out the time, I’d like to read Wolfe and see the film. I suspect it may be a case of what went around in the late 60s coming back with a new suit of clothes and a Blackberry. In any event, the movie’s in the theatre and I’ll see if I can’t drag someone out to go see it.

    Great review!


    Thanks for noticing that punchline. And, what an interesting discovery you’ve made! I need to look up what The Mid-Atlantic Man is all about. I’m amazed at how carefully you read my posts and much appreciate your using them as a springboard to other reading and research! That is the greatest compliment you can give me. Heartfelt thanks!



  6. Arti,

    I saw this movie last weekend – we went to see Avatar and it being sold out, we went to this, albeit a little disappointed as I thought this to be the kind of movie you don’t really need to see in a theater – dvd at home is fine [and cheaper!] – I am also not a huge Clooney fan, despite my appreciation of his talents…

    Your comment about “being too rushed to stop for a story” is perfect! – I hear Avatar is visually fabulous but paying some starving writer $25,000 for a story line might have helped! On the other hand Up in the Air was such a lovely surprise, visually beautiful [one could play those packing scenes over and over – and learn something for one’s next travel adventure!], acting superb, story drawing you in like nothing I have seen in quite a while. All I know is that when it ended, I just sat there, unable to move, soaking it in, and realized that there was not a single special effect, not a single crash or violent act – this alone was such a treat, I cannot tell you [I was completely exhausted after just sitting through the previews!] – we went with another couple and spent our after-movie dinner in discussion – that a gift in itself!

    Thank you Arti for your words – I am not capable of expressing my insights so poetically… you are a gem!



    Thanks for your kind words. I agree with you about this movie being much better than expected. Your comment about there being no FX or violence, but just simple and engaging storytelling is so true in today’s culture drown by technology and sensationalism. Director JR has done that in Juno, and I’ll be looking out for his next film… and I trust it won’t be a ‘pleasant surprise’.



  7. *Spoiler Alert*

    I’m just back from seeing Up In The Air. It was a real treat, and far more than I expected.

    The plot line seemed a little thin, or perhaps just not woven together as tightly as I like. On the other hand, the development of the characters was superb. The only tiny quibble I had came at the end. I felt as though Natalie was left “hanging” a bit – I would have liked to see the resolution of her situation fleshed out a bit more.

    Otherwise, it was great. Given the movie as a whole I expected a formulaic ending. Instead, I was completely surprised, and even a little upset.
    I’d come to like Ryan immensely, and would have preferred a different ending.

    One thing you didn’t focus on in your review that caught my interest was the level of deceit and cynicism on Alex’s part, and the ironies in her relationship with Ryan. In the end, she WAS who he THOUGHT he was in the beginning. At one point (and I suspect you know which one) I would have slapped her cheerfully.

    It was a great movie. I’m glad I saw it – and would even watch it again.


    You see, if I’ve mentioned about that you probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. I always leave something unsaid in my reviews so not to spoil the effects intended by the filmmaker.

    As for Natalie, in a way her situation is ‘resolved’ as she came out a more experienced and hopefully wiser person, and seems like she’s compensated in terms of her career. As for Ryan, I’m gratified to see the change, but of course the pathos rests with the scenario I mentioned in my last sentence. Again, even in my comment here, I don’t want to be too explicit so not to give out spoilers. But this only stirs up my desire to have a more direct forum where we CAN really discuss without speaking in subtleties. Maybe start a blog where those who’ve seen the movies can meet and talk about them openly… ironically, a good name for such a blog is… Ripple Effects.



  8. Arti ~ Perhaps you could start a separate page called “The Spoiler’s Corner” or some such.
    It would be separate from the body of the blog, and anyone who went there would know precisely what they would be getting.

    If there was a movie or book there someone hadn’t yet read, they simply could skip that and go directly to, for example, “Up In The Air”.

    In any event, thanks again for the review and the nudge. It was a thoroughly enjoyable movie.


    Great suggestion! One of these days I just might do that, or if I have the time, start another blog, ‘Postscript’, just for after movie chats, like those over coffee and snacks after the show.



  9. Arti,

    Finally I can get on here!

    Thanks for EXPLAINING the movie to me! I can totally relate to this movie; traveling back & forth all the time and not settling down.

    Excellent review!



  10. I finally saw ‘Up In The Air’ yesterday. At long last, it came to Hong Kong. My wish is to see all the nominated movies before March 7, the Oscar.

    I’m not a Clooney fan but I must say, he is perfectly cast as Ryan Bingham, a corprate downsizing expert in this film. Without giving away too much of the story, I think this is one film that you will not be disappointed. Do check it out.

    I look forward to seeing more Jason Reitman films in the future. Like his style.

    Molly Mavis,

    We’ll see what the Oscars will bring. As for JR, Thank You For Smoking (2005) and Juno (2007) are must-see’s if you enjoy his style. Thanks for stopping by.



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