Up In the Air

(Reviewed December 2, 2009, by James Dawson)

George Clooney is perfectly cast as very frequent flyer Ryan Bingham, whose job is delivering bad news at companies where, as he puts it, "the bosses are pussies who don't have the balls to fire their own employees." Yet while he is cheerfully uninterested in long-term commitments that he thinks would weigh him down, Ryan is not at all cynical about his work. He handles each exit interview efficiently but not cruelly, gently easing the about-to-be-unemployed through what he knows may be the worst day of their lives.

Ryan encounters unexpected turbulence when his company announces plans to carry out future terminations via video conference to reduce travel expenses. That's the brilliant idea of newly hired Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a tightly wound know-it-all who manages to be both icy and adorable. When Ryan objects to being grounded by someone with no real-world experience, his boss (Jason Bateman, smarmy as always) tells him to take Natalie along on what might be his final series of flights.

Kendrick is deliciously, ridiculously fun to watch. Strutting with amusing arrogance in take-me-seriously pantsuits and a strictly no-nonsense ponytail, she describes the aggressive way she attacks her laptop keyboard as "typing with purpose." The fact that she so obviously is headed for a change of attitude doesn't make that transformation any less enjoyable. If there's not an award for "funniest public crying jag," there should be.

Previously best known as Bella Swan's high-school friend Jessica in "Twilight" (where she delivered the immortal line "I like this one, it makes my boobs look good" while trying on a prom dress), Kendrick is so appealing here that you will pray she resists the inevitable siren call of rom-com junk in the future.

Vera Farmiga plays businesswoman and no-strings Clooney hook-up Alex, whose easygoing attitude is baffling to by-the-numbers Natalie. Alex is so like Ryan that he naturally finds her irresistible, making him question his "empty backpack," keep-moving-or-die philosophy of life.

J.K. Simmons is excellent as one of the many people fired during the course of the movie, which couldn't be more timely in light of America's current disastrously downsized economy.

Director Jason Reitman, who wrote the screenplay with Sheldon Turner from the novel by Walter Kirn, does a good job of balancing the sweet with the bitter. When Simmons' character worries how his firing will affect his kids, Natalie pipes up with, "Actually, studies have shown that children under moderate trauma have a tendency to apply themselves academically."

A third-act family wedding slows the movie down a little, and Danny McBride's performance as Ryan's soon-to-be brother-in-law is a bit too sitcommish, but the plot recovers nicely at the end.

Highly recommended!

Back Row Reviews Grade: A-