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“Up in the Air” is a down to earth ride

“Is the bag empty because you hate people or because you hate the baggage that they come along with?”

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is only at home when he’s on the road (or, to be more accurate, in the air). Ryan fires people for a living and moonlights as a motivational speaker encouraging his audience to drop all the baggage, both material and emotional that weighs them down.

His nomadic way of life comes under threat when Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), the female version of Ryan, and Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a recent college graduate who is sent out with Ryan to learn the tricks of the termination trade, come into it. Both women teach him lessons that force Ryan to reassess his life and decide if he’s really content living without ever putting down any roots.

“Up in the Air” almost defies being placed in a category – it is a comedy that is completely devastating. There is romance and humor, but the storyline seems to be much more based in reality than the plots of most romantic comedies. Jason Reitman (“Thank You for Smoking”, “Juno”) navigates between genres without making the story too sappy or too divorced from reality. He takes the cliché of a coming-of-age story and turns it on its head. Rather than portraying Clooney’s character as the wise know-it-all and Kendrick’s as the naive neophyte, he makes it clear that both have lessons to learn and lessons to teach.

In the current economic climate, with the national unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent, watching the segments of people getting fired was almost too real. Reitman explained on the DVD commentary that for most of the firing scenes, he used real people who had recently lost their jobs.

While George Clooney is great as Ryan, Anna Kendrick’s is the standout performance in this film. Natalie starts out as a rather irritating Type A personality. She joins Ryan’s company with lofty ideas and the fearlessness of youth, but Kendrick subtly shows how Natalie grows and matures as Ryan forces her to face the reality of what their job actually consists of.

Although “Up in the Air” deals with a far-too-common and unpleasant sign of the times, Reitman and Clooney and Kendrick succeed in making the film anything but depressing.

DVD Extras

While there is not a huge amount of extras on the DVD, Reitman’s commentary is a must-listen-to for any budding filmmaker, or even for someone who’s simply interested in how movies are made. He is candid about the issues that come up when filming on location and even dissects what goes into filming various complex scenes. He shines a light on much of the production process, from writing the script to choosing the music to accompany it.

There is a short piece on how the opening credits were created that you can skip. Reitman is back for commentary over deleted scenes from the film. Many of the cut scenes that are included were ones Reitman discussed in his commentary for the film, so it was a bit of a treat to be able to see what he was talking about.