Here’s a movie that acts like comfort food for me every time I watch it: “Up in The Air.”
One of the only movies to truly film a decent portion of its shoot in St. Louis stars George Clooney and Anna Kendrick as firing experts. Ancillary services of the devilish kind, they’re contractors for big businesses. They are the trusted suits who go into a workplace downsizing considerably to do the nasty work that their bosses can not fathom completely themselves. Jason Reitman directed it, and shot a ton of the movie downtown on Market Street–where all the big, tall business buildings loom over the heart of St. Louis.
The film sports a top-notch supporting cast, with the likes of Vera Farmiga, Amy Morton, Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, Melanie Lynskey, and Zack Galifianakis (in a small role) chipping in lived-in quality performances. In one particular scene, you can see Kiener Plaza from over 2010 sticking out over Simmons’ shoulder as he is fired by the film’s main duo. Clooney’s Ryan Bingham is a traveling ninja for Bateman’s fictional company, someone who has adapted his entire life to the road. Kendrick’s young up and comer, Natalie, has developed new tech that would take the old dinosaur pros like Bingham off the road.
The film’s more fascinating scenes are Clooney telling the audience why he loves all the little peccadilloes about flying and airports that we hate. The security check, booking, and compliance with flight procedures are second-nature to his character. At the end of the day, it’s a movie about how detachment works for the soul while slowly killing it.
The isolation that Clooney’s lone ranger found on the road was his medicine, but you never know what life feels like outside your norm until something comes up and knocks yours for a loop. But it wasn’t a sweet and Hollywood-flavored ending that wrapped up Reitman’s film. The fascinating and mostly unexplained ending simply finds our leading man looking up at Lambert Airport’s Arrivals and Departures board.
Did he continue on the road, where Bateman’s head honcho suit sent him after the new tech was tabled? (Spoiler alert! 13 years later.) Did he instead decide to take Natalie’s advice and just pick a spot on the map to fly to? This ties into another core element of the plot: Ryan’s chase after the illustrious flying record of ten million miles.
All of it is subtly done and reminds you that the best movies around the holidays don’t have to directly include Christmas lights and presents. Sometimes, a movie like “Up in the Air” can remind you all that is yours and the rest that can’t be tracked due to life moving so fast. Clooney’s guy picked a life where his personal backpack-a metaphor that Ryan milks for Tim Robbins side hustle cash-because it fit his lifestyle and connection to the world.
His life had routine and structure, both things that gather turbulence in a life that includes family and multiple schedules. Giving yourself to someone requires a leap, one that we see him take over the course of two hours. If you can’t tell, I love this film.
“Up in The Air” is currently streaming on Netflix.
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