By: Eugene Novikov, reprinted from the Toronto Film Festival '09
Sometimes it seems like one of Hollywood's main goals is to make people without spouses and children feel really bad about themselves. If that sort of thing bothers you, I would recommend passing on Up in the Air, which is as strident about the notion that a life without a family is worthless as any movie I've ever seen. Fortunately, it is also brisk, funny, and not enslaved to genre conventions. Parts of the film, in fact, approach comic brilliance. The reason that the film's message-mongering doesn't grate, I think, is that we really do feel sorry for the protagonist – an obsessive frequent flier who begins to realize that his life is an empty, lonely shell of rationalizations and self-delusions.
In some respects, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) approaches caricature: not only is he wifeless, childless and practically homeless – he has a barren studio in Omaha and spends 320 days a year on the road – but he fires people for a living and occasionally gives motivational speeches urging people to "empty their backpacks" and rid themselves of commitment. But there's a kernel of truth to him, in the sense that there is something compelling, almost romantic about transience. His world of luxury hotels and airline perks – and a hot frequent flier girlfriend (Vera Farmiga) with whom he sleeps with when their paths cross but who asks for nothing more – actually seems kind of cool.