Making the Grades
If you have ever wished for a life where you could continually jet around the country, you might be wise to spend a couple of hours with Ryan Bingham (George Clooney). Belonging to a firm that hires out corporate downsizing experts, he specializes in doing various companies’ dirty work by telling their employees that they are no longer needed. Hoping planes and moving from city to city, Ryan terminates hundreds of people with the finesse of a master surgeon.
As miserable as his job sounds, it has become just one element contributing to his complete personality. Practically estranged from his two sisters (his parents are deceased) and unwilling to commit to a relationship, Ryan calls the hotel rooms, airport lounges, and business class seats he occupies “home.” He has managed to pack his life into a small rolling suitcase and is able to maneuver through airports with ease and agility. Sporting a wallet full of traveler’s point cards, his secret life goal is to achieve the 10 Million Mile Award from American Airlines (who are prominently featured throughout the movie).
His collection of patronage cards even gives him flirting advantage one evening when he meets Alex (Vera Farmiga) in an airport lounge. Also a frequent flyer, her admiration of his plastic is enough to lure her into his hotel room for a night of recreational sex (briefly seen with rear female nudity). The pair even begins calculating when their flight plans will intersect again. However, the sense of security and isolated independence Ryan extracts from his perfectly predictable schedule is about to come in for a hard landing.
First his boss (Jason Bateman) hires an enthusiastic young graduate, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), to slash their company’s travel budget by moving to a virtual communications system using video conferencing. Then there is the obligation of attending his younger sister’s wedding. And finally there’s his attraction to Alex. For a man who has a part-time gig delivering motivational seminars on how to avoid emotional attachments, he is finding himself more and more drawn to the woman he sees only during brief rendezvous.
Although this is not likely a movie kids will want to watch (notwithstanding the inclusion of Twilight star Kendrick), parents should still be aware that the script contains better than a dozen sexual expletives, other profanities, brief sexual comments and terms of deity. This, along with the aforementioned nudity and unmarried sexual relationship, mar what is otherwise a well-executed film that offers a compelling story with poignant messages.
Most likely this movie’s audience “sweet spot” will be mid-lifers who feel great empathy for Clooney’s perfect-on-the-outside but hurting-on-the-inside characterization. In addition, emotions are sure to surface while witnessing Ryan and Natalie firing armies of beleaguered workers. These depictions are made even more heart-wrenching by the film’s release during an economic employment crisis. (Writer/director Jason Reitman actually cast some of these parts with real victims of recent job cuts.) This group of viewers might also relate to the protagonist’s struggle to face his feelings about relationships with his siblings and the purpose family holds in his life.
As Ryan’s dilemma unfolds, it is hard not to see similarities between his modern existence and the classic travelling salesman of old. For some, this jet setter may appear to have the perfect pie-in-the-sky situation, but others will leave the theater happy they don’t share this high flyer’s life.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Up In The Air.
What practices in our society may contribute to the inability to develop and maintain interpersonal relationships?
Do you think there are people who would be perfectly happy living the life that Ryan has? Or do you think inevitably such individuals would eventually wish things were different?
What did Ryans frequent flyer points really represent? Why did he find so much comfort in his artificial airport and hotel surroundings?