Archive for the ‘Jason Reitman’ Category

Movies that Move: Up in the Air

March 10, 2010 Leave a comment

I watch a lot of movies.  Every now and again, I come across one that truly moves me.  It is such a rare occurrence that when it happens, I feel the need to take notice and explore exactly what it is about the film that is causing me to respond emotionally.

That is the idea behind “Movies that Move,” in which I will examine films that have caused me to feel, well, moved.  In this inaugural edition, I will take a look at the real Best Picture of 2009, Jason Reitman’s third film, Up in the Air. (Warning, if you haven’t seen the film, stop reading now.)

For most people, the relatable aspect of Up in the Air was the stories about people losing their jobs, and by extension, their identities, set against the backdrop of our current economic climate.  While I definitely related to that theme of the film, what I felt most connected to were the three main characters, played by George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick, and the qualities within each of them that I was able to identify in myself.

Loneliness and self-imposed isolation make up Ryan Bingham, a 40-something, career transition specialist played with precision by George Clooney, who was born to play this role.  Bingham is hired by large companies throughout the country to lay people off.  His world is travel: airports, hotels, and rental cars.  His entire life fits into a rolling, carry on suitcase.  He is never in the same city for more than a few nights, and therefore does not have any close, personal relationships in his life.

In a hotel bar in Dallas, he meets Vera Farmiga’s Alex, a 34 year-old fellow business traveler.  They bond over their knowledge of the perks of different rental car companies, and are clearly turned on by each other’s frequent flier mile totals and memberships in various travel reward programs. They begin a sexual relationship, and must schedule their trysts by cracking open their laptops in order to determine when they will both be in the same city at the same time.

Alex tells Ryan that she is “the woman that you don’t have to worry about,” and that he should think of her like himself, “only with a vagina,” establishing the type of casual relationship she intends to have with him.  This is the only type of relationship these two people are capable of having.

At a company-wide meeting in Omaha, Ryan meets Natalie Keener, a 22 year-old, always composed, fresh out of college, go-getter, who proposes that instead of sending Ryan and his colleagues out on the road to fire people, they could save money by firing people over the computer via web cam. Since he lives to be on the road, this idea is a direct threat to his way of life.  His boss tells him he can stay on the road awhile longer, but only if he takes Natalie with him to show her the importance of what he does.

Natalie, a travel novice, is completely unimpressed by Ryan’s way of life.  She has the wrong luggage, and knows nothing about airport protocol.  The things about Ryan that are a turn on for Alex, Natalie dismisses with disgust.  Natalie tells him that his lifestyle choice of traveling all the time is a “cocoon of self-banishment” and that he has engineered a way of life for himself that makes it impossible to have any sort of human connection with anyone.  Speaking with her boyfriend over the phone while on the road, she says of Ryan, “I don’t even think of him that way, he’s old.”

Ryan also freelances as a motivational speaker.  One of his speeches is entitled, “What’s in Your Backpack?”  He asks his audience to fill a hypothetical backpack full of the people around them, starting with their most casual acquaintances, and ending with the most important people in their lives.  He then asks them to think about how much that backpack might weigh, and whether that weight might slow them down in life.  “Your relationships are the heaviest components of your life,” he says, and that “the slower we move, the faster we die.”

The scene that I relate to the most takes place in a hotel bar, right after Natalie’s boyfriend breaks up with her via text message.  Natalie and Ryan are joined by Alex, and the three of them begin to talk about their expectations of the opposite sex.  We learn that Natalie had a job waiting for her in San Francisco, but followed her boyfriend to Omaha instead, because he had a job there and said they could start a life together.

“When I was sixteen, I thought by 23, I’d be married, maybe have a kid.  Corner office by day, entertaining at night.  I’m supposed to be driving a Grand Cherokee by now.”   Natalie laments.  Alex, who is an older version of Natalie, assures her that “life can under whelm you that way.” Ryan points out that “at a certain point, you stop with the deadlines.”

Then Natalie says the one thing that strong, independent women are not supposed to think, let alone say out loud.  “Sometimes it feels like no matter how much success I have, it’s not gonna to matter until I find the right guy.”  Deep down, inside single women everywhere, no matter what their age, that same fear resides.  At least it does with me.

When Alex asks her if she thinks that the guy who just dumped her was “the one,” Natalie replies that she “could have made it work” because he “fit the bill.”  She then presents a laundry list of requirements for her ideal mate that includes such ridiculous necessities as having a single syllable name and driving a four runner.

When Natalie asks Alex what her “bill” is, she replies that by the time you’re her age, “all the physical requirements just go out the window.” Alex’s much shorter list includes someone who is not an asshole, enjoys her company, and makes more money than her.  “You might not understand that right now, but believe me, you will one day.”  Boy, is that a true statement if there ever was one.

After Alex leaves town, Natalie asks Ryan what sort of relationship he has with her. He tells her it is casual.  Natalie asks him if he sees a future with Alex, and he says that he hasn’t thought about it. Natalie doesn’t understand how he could not think about having a future with someone.  “You know that moment, when you look into somebody’s eyes and you can feel them staring into your soul, and the whole world goes quiet, just for a second?”  Natalie says that she does.  “Right, well I don’t.”  Ryan tells her.  There are times when I certainly can relate to that sentiment.

When Ryan and Natalie are sent back to Omaha, he heads off to Vegas to meet up with Alex instead.  He asks Alex to be his date at his sister Julie’s upcoming wedding in Wisconsin.  “For the first time in my life, I don’t want to be that guy alone in a bar.  I want a dance partner, I want a plus one, and if you can stomach it, I’d like it to be you.”  She initially resists, but eventually accompanies him to Wisconsin.

My first and only clue about the twist ending was during the scene at the airport in Wisconsin after Ryan’s sister’s wedding.  Ryan walks Alex to her gate and is obviously sad to see her go.  She asks when she’s going to see him again, and he tells her that she needs to come visit him in Omaha, because he will no longer be traveling for his job.  She seems worried that he will change now that he’s going to be settled in one place, and he assures her that he will still be the same guy.  “Call me when you get lonely,” she says to him as she walks toward her gate.  “I’m lonely,” he says, and she quietly laughs as she walks away.  I could tell by her expression and body language that something was up with her, I just didn’t exactly know what.

Ryan is restless in Omaha, and travels for a freelance speaking engagement.  He walks off of the stage during the middle of his speech and flies to Chicago to see Alex.  He shows up on her doorstep, and she is visibly shocked to see him.  Two children are seen running up the stairs and a male voice calling her “honey” wants to know who is at the door.  It turns out that Alex is not like Ryan at all.  She is married and has a family, and to her, Ryan is just a good time while she is on the road.

Alex calls Ryan and is mad at him for almost screwing up her “real life.”   He asks her why she didn’t tell him about her family, and she tells him that she thought they were both signing up for the same type of casual relationship.  She asks him what he wants from her, and he is unable to answer.  She tells him that if he wants to see her again, he should give her a call.  Visibly hurt, Ryan hangs up on her.  The thing about Alex that I do not understand is why she bothered to accompany Ryan to his sister’s wedding, if all she wanted was a casual relationship.

Back in Omaha, Ryan’s boss tells him that he is going to send him back out on the road indefinitely. Even after his dreams of settling in one place with Alex were crushed, he seems sad at the idea of traveling again, ensuring that his isolation, that he now wishes to free himself from, will continue.

The movie ends with Ryan at the airport, staring at the departure board, trying to decide upon a destination.  He has changed, even though his situation remains the same.  He reconnected with his family, and for the first time saw the importance of having a future with a woman.  It did not work out, but the mere fact that he was willing to try shows a huge amount of growth for his character.  The ending is sad, but at the same time, you are hopeful that the next time he meets a woman he connects with; he will be willing to give it a go.

Like I stated earlier, I see myself in all three of these characters.  Like Ryan, I often live in a “cocoon of self-banishment” due to the nature of what I do for a living.  I don’t travel as much as Ryan, but working freelance puts me on a different schedule than most of my peers, making it difficult for me to meet and have time for “the one.”  Like Alex, as a woman in my thirties, I have learned to adjust my expectations of men, and I like to present myself as “the woman that you don’t have to worry about,” even though, deep down, like Natalie, I long to be just that.  The presentation and juxtaposition of these three very different, yet similar characters is what, in my opinion, makes this movie moving.