Up in the Air (2009) by Jason Reitman
I just scrolled through the list of nominations for this film – and Anna Kendrick sure made an impression with the critics and the audience with this movie.
I didn’t watch it at the movies but on DVD. Movies about the oh-so-important crisis of men usually take a backseat on my to-watch list and, yeah, I’m aware that there’s a slim chance that I might miss a good movie that way – it’s a risk I’m willing to take.
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) earns his money with firing people – that’s the service his employer provides. He travels to different locations throughout the U.S. and informs employees that they are let go because the employers are too chicken to do it themselves. Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) is an ambitious young woman who wants to help cut costs for the company Bingham works for by grounding everyone and having the work done via computer.
Ryan isn’t happy about this because he likes to be on the road – or rather: in the air. He has the aim to reach 10 million miles of flying, and then there’s the lovely Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) who leads a life similar to his and whom he can only meet and connect with in the realm of life without boundaries.
I like this one – I don’t love it, though. The three leads, as presented on the poster, are the real appeal of it. They work so well together. The writing is good, the conversations feel real, close to heart. Just look at the scene with the three of them talking in the entrance hall of the hotel. It’s probably one of the most captivating scenes in any movie in which the protagonists just talk.
The reason I don’t love the movie are the conventions that are being upheld. Natalie is 23 and has her life planned – and this life includes moving to Omaha for a boyfriend, wanting to be married with kids as fast as possible and having a career. When her boyfriend breaks up with her, she breaks apart. I am aware that this is a critique of a system that tells women to be exactly like that – but is it recognized as a critique? When Natalie lectures Ryan about his relationship to Alex and later turns out to be right – that he’s lonely and secretely in love with Alex – doesn’t that validate her convictions about love rather than criticize them?
And did Ryan really have to turn out to be sappy and secretely unhappy, instead of the cool guy he’s on the surface? Hollywood is the greatest promoter of LOVE. The undying, the one true, the happily ever after LOVE. It is not possible for Ryan to just be casual about Alex – the way she is casual with him – he has to be in love. I’m not saying that Alex isn’t a worthy object of admiration – she’s a captivating character, I found myself falling for her – but Ryan’s love for her becomes too much of a convention. Because we expect it – the movie makers would argue, because we want it to happen. But really, is it so bad for a main character to be alone and happy? Hollywood makes single people, people who rather live alone, feel bad about themselves. And it makes me sound like a total loser because I promote this way of life. I may not agree with Ryan’t whole philosophy of the empty backpack but I do believe there are people who like to live that way, want to live that way. But Hollywood tells us in a million ways each year that this is wrong, that everybody needs somebody to love (not just Hollywood, the music industry is probably second in line).
Up in the Air promotes this point a little too vehemently, too. And the only consolation is that Ryan doesn’t get what he wants. Alex is unavailable. And he’s back in the air where he suddenly doesn’t want to be anymore. He ends up the victim of society’s expectations. But it doesn’t feel like a critique of the system, it points at Ryan and tells us: look at this poor sob, he waited too long, he wasted his life frivolously, and now he will never find love.
And that is just wrong.