In-Flight Entertainment:
Up in the Air

By Jason Lee

March 15, 2010

It's rude to interrupt me while I'm eating. I'm George Clooney. I could have you killed.

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Stale pretzels and lukewarm sodas aside, in-flight movies provide a great opportunity for you to catch up on some of films that you didn't get to see while they were in theatres. Besides, what else are you going to do during your flight? Stare at the seat in front of you?

In-Flight Entertainment brings you the movies now playing at a cruising altitude of 30,000 miles in the air. So put your tray table up, buckle your safety belt, and let's go.

Now Playing on American Airline flights in March: Up in the Air

The inevitable moment has arrived: Up in the Air is finally playing on domestic and international American Airline flights. Fellow BOPer, David Mumpower, confessed to me late last year that he was looking forward to the moment when I would be able to review Up in the Air for this column. With the Oscars behind us and the film's DVD release today, that time has arrived.

Being a frequent flyer myself, it was somewhat of a surreal experience to watch this film during one of my transcontinental flights. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm an American Airlines Executive Platinum member (like George Clooney's character), I have a membership to the American Airlines Admiral's Club (ditto), and I was able to watch the film in First Class thanks to a complimentary flight upgrade. In short, I'm well versed in the world that Clooney's character inhabits.


And what a world it is. Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a jet-setting executive who traverses the country, firing employees of various companies on behalf of chicken-livered bosses too cowardly to do it themselves. No, Ryan has never met any of these employees before, nor will he ever again. He simply goes in to terminate employment while minimizing both the emotional damage done to the employee and legal liability to the employer. And boy, is he good at it.

This movie was in gestation for almost six years, with director Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You For Smoking), but I doubt he had any idea how relevant the topics of unemployment and economic hardship would be when it was finally released. Watching the film now and seeing a parade of shock, anger, disappointment, confusion, disillusionment and hopelessness cross the faces of the newly unemployed characters is an all-too-realistic reflection of what's been taking place in cities and towns across the country over the last couple of years.

Of course, Ryan's boss, Craig Gregory (played in deliciously snarky fashion by Jason Bateman) is quick to point out that for a company specializing in mass layoffs, the worst of times for others is the best of times for them. As a result, Ryan has spent 322 days on the road last year, traveling from city to city, leaving a trail of pink slips in his wake.

Along the way, he uses his airline tickets, hotel reservations, car rentals and even his meals to generate as many frequent flyer miles as he can for his American Airlines AAdvantage account. During one stop, he meets Alex Goran (played by Vera Farmiga, who gives the sexiest female performance in recent memory), a woman who shares his passion for casual sex and elite status. "Think of me as yourself . . . but with a vagina," she tells him at one point. They enter into a fellow-travelers-with-benefits relationship, hooking up when they happen to be in the same city and sexting when they're not.

But all Ryan's good fortune (rampant unemployment and newfound play partner) comes to a screeching halt when perky upstart Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), fresh out of college from Cornell, convinces Craig that the company could fire people much more efficiently if they did it via webcam instead of in person. Harsh? Yes. Economical? Hell yes.

Convinced of the folly of Natalie's plan, Ryan takes her on a whirlwind trip around the country, introducing her to the pitfalls and nuances of their profession. As his time up in the air brings him closer to both Alex and Natalie, Ryan comes face to face with the various benefits and commiserate trade-offs of his chosen lifestyle. Suffice to say that while you can escape into the clouds every once in a while, it doesn't get any easier when you're brought back down to earth.

I saw this movie back in December, and watching it again only heightened my appreciation for what Reitman, Clooney, Fermiga, and Kendrick are able to accomplish. That said, I would NEVER want someone's first viewing of this film to come while on an airplane. The R-rating of Up In The Air has been whittled down to more of a PG level in order to make it palatable to larger airborne audiences.

As a result, a great deal of the movie's edge has been lost. Ryan expresses a preference for standing behind "businessmen" in airport security lines (instead of "Asians"), Alex texts Ryan with the suggestion that he "take a cold shower" (instead of "rubbing one out"), and Alex calls herself a version of Ryan "with a nice smile" (instead of the aforementioned "vagina"). The castration of the movie's biting dialogue, though well-intentioned, really robs the movie of its punch. It also dulls the intentionally closure-free ending of the film, which seems to follow in the Seinfeld tradition of "no one learns, no one changes."

And yet, this movie is still worth watching for anyone up in the air. It's a well-executed film with a smart plot, timely message and some truly fantastic performances. Earlier this year, the film received six Academy Award nominations, and it deserved every single one. Up In The Air is definitely worth your time. Even if you're not sitting in First Class.

Rating: 3 stars.



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