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Up in the Air

Up in the Air has been hailed by many critics as one of the best movies of 2009. Directed by Jason Reitman, the man who brought us Thank You For Smoking and Juno, this film is like his others in that it follows an individual with a background that openly challenges society's unwritten rules on happiness and morality. With an interesting concept and great characters, the film is indeed great and very promising - but one of the best films of 2009? I wouldn't go *that* far, but Up in the Air is still a great film nonetheless.

The film follows Ryan Bingham, a man who makes his living by traveling to workplaces around the United States and conducting layoffs for bosses that are too cowardly to do it themselves. Because of Ryan's cold calculation and efficiency, he often delivers motivational speeches as well, all of which deal with the analogy of "What's In Your Backpack?". This analogy states Ryan's personal philosophy and his explanation to the source of his success - a life without relationships is a life filled with peace and tranquility. Along with his business goals, Ryan has a personal goal of reaching ten million frequent flyer miles which, according to Ryan, has only been accomplished by six people in the world. During one of his travels, Ryan meets the like-minded Alex, a woman who also travels the U.S. on a regular basis, and soon develops a casual (and sexual) relationship with her. Just as life is seeming to be perfect to Ryan, a hitch comes along to deter his goal - an aspiring worked named Natalie. Natalie's new idea for the company is to use hi-def webcams in order to fire people rather than sending individuals to go and perform the dirty work. Ryan objects, of course ,and is placed with Natalie to "show her the ropes". The rest of the film follows these three leading characters in a drama that contains wit, style, and fantastic scripting.

The characters and performances are, by far, the best aspect of this film. Ryan, Natalie, and Alex are all intelligent people with an air of likability about them. Their interactions and dialogue is smart and witty, which is common for a Jason Reitman film, which allows its audience to 'befriend' these characters even if only for their intellect. Ryan, for instance, is your common fast-talking and world-wise businessman and, while this archetype has been seen many times, the film is able to give a huge of breath of life and vigor to this character. He dares to be different by rejecting all forms of relationships. "Hey", he says, "I don't need the house, the wife, and the 2.3 children to be happy in life". That's completely fine and I applaud the character's boldness. Natalie, who can be both reserved and eccentric, is also an interesting character. Though she at first appears as a business socialite, she actually turns out to be a very sweet and emotional girl. Alex, though the least likable of the three, is interesting as well and her advice is brutal yet very honest. There's plenty to love in this department.

The visuals look pretty good as well. There aren't too many "great moments", but there are some sequences that were very visually impressive. The opening, for instance, looks really nice and is supplemented by a fitting song. Other than that, there isn't too much else to say about the visuals. They look slick and get the job done - 'nuff said.

Now, you may be asking "Why?" to yourself at this point. "Zach", you say, "if you supposedly love this film, how is it not one of the best films of 2009?" Well, reader, I said that because the film, frankly, felt cold for the majority of the film. I completely understand the "alternative lifestyle choice" and respect that much, but the film felt very bitter for some reason. As if humanity and relationships were meaningless and anyone who had them were obviously conformists that stuck to the status quo. See, that's where I draw the line. Say what you will about a great script and great characters, but a film that tries to evoke emotion while simultaneously being cold doesn't work very well.

The ending was very iffy for me as well. I'm not sure how I felt about it. The whole message of the film was, in my opinion, that "alternative lifestyles are alright and that romance/kids/suburban life isn't for everyone". Yet, around the last thirty minutes of the film, that ideology takes a 180-degree spin and decides that you *do* need those things in order to be happy. It left me feeling confused - is the message pro-alternative or anti-alternative? Or maybe it's just neutral? Who knows...?

Up in the Air is, without a doubt, a great film. It's got smart writing and great characters, making for an involving and dramatic film about the philosophy of isolation. It can be quite cold, though, and ending seemed very confused in a narrative sense. Regardless, it's an enjoyable and witty romp.



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