I think I may have just seen the best movie of my life. Or maybe I’m exaggerating in my enthusiasm for this flick, Up in the Air, starring George Clooney. I now understand why so many women swoon over the man. He has maybe the best smile of any male in Hollywood. Alex, his now and then lover whenever they can meet at one plane stop or another, says when describing what a man should be that he must have a good smile. Yes, she says, a great smile. She says this as she is looking at Clooney, who is smiling that Clooney smile.
Hard to describe the plot since it relies more on character than plot. Clooney is a corporate downsizer (one who is hired to do corporate firings) who is happy to spend most of his time and his life flying from one site to another, firing people but making the firing as soft a landing as possible. The firing isn’t why he loves his job; it’s the flying from one place to another, getting the VIP treatment on every flight, on every rental car pickup, on every hotel assignment. He can’t stand to return to Omaha, his home base, where he has an apartment as sterile as his life there. The plot turns on the hiring of an efficiency expert, a young, eager executive that wants the corporation to do the firing on-line instead of face-to-face. Ryan Bingham (Clooney) is appalled by the idea, one part of him knowing how inhumane the idea is, one part resisting it because it would take him out of the air, out of his real life. The best metaphor to describe Bingham’s life is the backpack he uses in his motivational speeches, asking his audiences to load the backpack with all the “stuff” in their lives and then see how much it weighs when they try to strap it on and carry it down the road of life. It’s a Thoreauvian concept, and Bingham is as much a “village idiot” and asocial animal as Thoreau was. But this is his life, and the ten million frequent-flyer miles is his life’s goal. His boss assigns him to take the young lady on the road to “show her the ropes.” The rest of the story involves this trip of self-discovery for all the players—Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), the on-line proponent; Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), the fellow traveler and off-and-on lover; and Bingham, the one who learns the most about his life, or lack thereof. The story is simple but brilliant, and brilliantly told by the three actors, who all deserve to be honored at the Oscar ceremonies coming up.