Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) adores the world of airports, chain hotels and loyalty cards. His life as a motivational speaker and downsizing man-for-hire keeps him travelling around America enjoying his status as a privileged business flier. Charming, slick and truly happy with his unencumbered lifestyle, which is free of physical and emotional baggage, Bingham revels in his life “on the road”. Preferring to work on his frequent flier miles collection rather than engaging with people Bingham is less than impressed when his boss Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) lumps him with young up-and-comer efficiency expert Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick from the Twilight films). If Tyler Durden in Fight Club represented a primal force that at the end of the 1990s wanted to break free of the commodity culture, Bingham represents the tamed desire, which ten years later, wants to embrace the superficial security and comforts of that culture.
Up in the Air is the third feature by writer/director Jason Reitman and it has a lot more in common with his 2005 corporate comedy Thank You for Smoking, which Reitman also wrote, than it does with his 2007 teen pregnancy comedy Juno. As with Thank You for Smoking, Up in the Air features a charismatic anti-hero lead character who in any other film would be the bad guy. Reitman and Clooney do an extremely good job at endearing Bingham to the audience and making us understand why he loves his life so much. We should feel either pity or contempt at his shallow existence but in fact we instead start to become seduced by it especially when he hooks up with Alex Goran (played marvellously by Vera Farmiga from Orphan and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) who is his female counterpart. For the most part Up in the Air is a breezy comedy that will appeal to anybody who has ever had to do extensive travel for work or attend corporate conferences.
Unfortunately Up in the Air does lose its bite in the third act and ends up lacking the wicked edge of Thank You for Smoking. Reitman drives the film towards a disappointingly conventional epiphany and then comeuppance sequence of events that detracts from the film as a whole. Up in the Air still resolves smartly and genuinely with a satisfyingly bittersweet conclusion but goes for a safe middle ground. Reitman’s film is far from being a masterpiece but he has succeeded in making Up in the Air very much a film of its time.