Up in the Air Review
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Director Jason Reitman has a way with smart, unconventional comedy. His first two features, 2006’s Thank You for Smoking and 2007’s Juno, were critical darlings (both of which made my annual top-ten list)—and surprising indie successes. George Clooney, meanwhile, is an award season staple—and an audience favorite. Put them together, and you’ve got a winning combination—one that will delight both audiences and award committees alike.

The rest of the country may be suffering from the recession, but things couldn’t be better for Ryan Bingham (Clooney). As a contractor who jets around the country to help downsizing companies fire their employees, he’s never been busier. He’s so busy, in fact, that he’s hardly ever home—and, for Ryan, that’s just fine. His “home” is a stark, white apartment in Omaha. He has no real friends, and he isn’t all that close to his family. His only real loyalties lie with his hotel, his rental car company, and, of course, his airline—and his only ongoing relationship is with fellow frequent flyer Alex (Vera Farmiga).

Ryan’s jet-setting way of life is put in jeopardy, though, when his know-it-all young coworker, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), suggests a cost-cutting new teleconferencing solution. If she gets her way, Ryan will never reach his goal of 10 million frequent flyer miles—and, what’s worse, he might actually have to learn to connect to other people again.

Up in the Air combines the best elements of Reitman’s earlier films. It has the sharp, rapid-fire dialogue of Juno and the biting wit of Thank You for Smoking. It’s laid-back and entertaining, yet it’s thoughtful and relevant, too.

Though the project was in the works before the worst of the recession hit, it couldn’t be more fitting for today’s unstable climate. The constant succession of the newly unemployed gives the film a potent sting, yet it also gives the story context.

But Up in the Air isn’t really about the doom and gloom of recession. It’s not really about the unemployed, either. And that’s a good thing—because we’re already faced with the realities of recession and unemployment in the news (and in our own lives) each and every day. Instead, Up in the Air is about the smooth-talking contractor who somehow knows exactly what to say to total strangers whose lives are crumbling down around them—yet he has no idea how to handle any relationship that lasts more than a half-hour. It’s about relationships—and connecting to those around us (in real, face-to-face relationships).

The script (which Reitman co-wrote) boasts keenly observant situations and crisp, clever dialogue. It’s filled with curveballs—and it all comes together just as it should (though not as you’d expect). As for the characters, while Farmiga’s Alex seems to be more of a caricature than a living, breathing person, the rest are carefully and lovingly developed. And the actors take full advantage of the solid writing, delivering their lines with quick-witted confidence. Clooney is as smooth and as slick as ever—yet Kendrick has no problem keeping up her end of their sharp banter.

Filled with warmth and humor—with a timely, yet timeless, feel—Up in the Air is a smart and surprising comedy. Thanks to its unconventional director and its award-worthy star(s), it’s sure to be a high-flying award season success.

Blu-ray Review:
Somehow, in the midst of this year’s big Bigelow vs. Cameron Oscar battle, writer/director Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air was completely overlooked, winning not one of the six awards for which it was nominated. In any other year, I like to think that Up in the Air probably would have had a pretty good chance of taking home a shiny set of Oscars. But keep an eye on Reitman; his time is definitely coming.

In the meantime, movie buffs can enjoy Reitman’s storytelling talents in Up in the Air—and you can take a peek at the process by viewing some of the extras included on the film’s Blu-ray release. Some of the special features are unexpected—like the short feature on Shadowplay Studios, the designers of Reitman’s title sequences. It’s not an aspect of the filmmaking process that usually gets covered in the special features, but Shadowplay definitely deserves the attention—because Reitman’s title sequences are always spectacular. There are also some rough video storyboards, as well as a short music video (something that usually only shows up on Disney releases).

Other extras are the same features that you’ll find on any release—stuff like trailers and deleted scenes (13 of them!) and a feature commentary with Reitman, DP Eric Steelberg, and First Assistant Director Jason Blumenfeld. But Reitman makes even the same old special features seem, well, special. He loves talking about the process, giving little tidbits of filmmaking advice along the way. Whether in the feature commentary or the commentary accompanying the deleted scenes, he’s chatty and entertaining and extremely informative. So even if you usually skip over the commentary track, be sure to give this one at least a few minutes of your time.

If you were too busy watching Avatar for the fifth time this award season—and you somehow missed Up in the Air—be sure to check it out now that it’s available on Blu-ray (and DVD, too). And while you’re at it, take some time to make your way through the special features, too—because these features really are special.

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