Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is close to reaching his goal of earning ten million frequent flyer miles. Although Bingham spends most of his time in airports, he has figured out airline travel efficiency down to a science. Ryan also had just met a new love interest, his female equivalent of frequent air travel—a successful businessman who appears to thrive living out of a suitcase. He does not want kids or a house, or even to have anything to do with his siblings.
“To know me is to fly with me.” – Ryan Bingham
You may be wondering why I chose a movie in our series that is set almost entirely in airports for our #30daysoftravelthroughcinema. “Up in the Air” is about a man whose only job is to fire people. He calls himself a “Termination Facilitator,” and he is really good at it. He is cold and calculated, which makes him excellent at his job. He is “one of those people you meet but never get to know.” Things are looking great for Ryan, as he gets closer to ten million miles.
Until a recent graduate, Natalie, played by Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect, Into the Woods), devised a new plan for firing people. However, his boss wants Ryan to take her with him on the road to learn from the best. Ryan reluctantly takes her along, teaching her just how systematic he is with his travels. She also meets his fellow air travel love interest, Alex, played by Vera Farmiga (Godzilla: King of the Monsters, The Judge). The two women in his life are teaching him lessons he did not know he needed to learn.
The new plan Natalie came up with is to start firing people over a conference call – in order to save the company thousands of dollars. This threatens Ryan’s way of life and stretches the ethics and morals surrounding their day-to-day work. However, his boss Craig (Jason Bateman) believes Natalie is the new and improved Ryan. They learn lessons in the air that they had never learned on the ground.
Ryan and Natalie have to take several detours along the way, which is similar to all of us right now. Often it is the tough times when the truth comes out. Either about someone’s character, or our life’s work or realizing what we have been working and striving for may have no significance in the grand scheme of life.
Interestingly enough, Rotten Tomatoes gives it a critics score of 91% and an audience score of 79%. Stating it “delivers a smart blend of humor and emotion with just enough edge for mainstream audiences.” Clooney and Kendrick complement each other’s on-screen performance. Although there is some comedy mixed in (just like on any trip), there remains a lonely feeling throughout the film.
It is listed as a comedy, drama, but I believe it is actually a tragedy. Certainly for the people being fired, but also for the lonely, travelers who traverse the country to tell other people about their life, but never really live their own while they are “Up in the Air.” Did he make it to ten million? Yes, but he did not keep them.
So why choose this film? It is because not all of life’s lessons can be learned on the ground. Seasoned travelers know far too well that it is the journey, not at the destination that makes the difference.
P.S. George, if you ever read this, we grew up in the same state and I think you are cool.