I think the problem with Up in the Air is that there isn’t much of a plot. I would have enjoyed it more if there was one, instead of just a few events that were thrown in whenever the filmmakers thought we’d be getting bored of watching the main character, Ryan (George Clooney), fire a group of people. That’s his job; he fires the people who formerly had a boss who was too much of a chicken to do it him or herself. He gets to fly around the country, visiting city after city, firing people.
He loves his job, which I suppose says something about him. He enjoys flying around the country, not having any relationships with real people, no home to live in, and so on. Being on the road is something he’s so comfortable with that he occasionally gives motivational speeches about ditching everything in order to begin anew, sans all the baggage that you carry around with you on a daily basis. He really sells it, which shows you just how good an actor George Clooney is if dedicated enough to the project.
His way of life is about to change, though, as a new person on the job, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), has proposed a new idea to the company that hires Ryan. In order to save travel costs, she suggested that it would be easier to just fire people via webcam conversation. No more travel and no more saving up toward his lifelong goal of reaching 10,000,000 miles. He’s essentially been grounded by this idea. Obviously, this doesn’t sit well with him, so after a quick demonstration, his boss decides to let him go on one last tour — as long as he takes Natalie with him in order to show her the ropes of the job.
For the longest time it seems as if that’s going to be all the movie is about. Natalie has to learn just what it takes to be the best at the job like Ryan is, while she’ll probably have a thing or two to teach him about, you know, things like morals and humanity and all that stuff that he’s purposely neglected for all these years. However, it transitions past that about 2/3 of the way in, instead focusing more on Ryan and his relationship to his family, as well as the one starting up between him and his female equivalent, Alex (Vera Farmiga).
What’s missing is an actual plot. These characters basically have the freedom to go anywhere and do anything they like, complete with no semblance of order or structure. They have no restraints, and can therefore basically do whatever they want as long as they still go fire random people who will plead for their job, making you feel sorry for all of the no-name characters who just got canned.
It’s all pretty formulaic when you get right down to it, with the final scene basically spelled out for you during a heartfelt talk between two of the characters. The only question at that point is how much all of these people will learn before we reach the inevitable conclusion. The answer: A lot, but nothing particularly unexpected. If you’re hoping to come away from Up in the Air with some life lessons, you’ll probably be disappointed because they’re about as insightful as this analogy.
It’s still not a bad film, but I felt disappointed after it ended. It is touching at times, while it also has a few scenes that are really funny, but it felt lacking without structure. It also felt very safe, with not a whole lot ever on the line. The only people with something to lose are those who get fired, while the main characters sit comfortably in their jobs. The worst thing that could happen is that company decides that they’ll go through with the computer-based firings, and Ryan has to stay at home for extended periods of time. Boo hoo.
It’s really hard to feel for the main character when he really does just need to undergo a minor philosophy shift in order to (seemingly) be happier. His life isn’t terribly difficult — firing a bunch of people might be tough, but he’s unfazed at the point we join him — and when the biggest challenge he could possibly face would be to come home at night instead of going to a hotel, it’s hard to sympathize with him at all. It’s the worst case of first world problems.
Instead of sympathizing with him, we turn most of our attention onto Natalie, who is just beginning to learn how lives are impacted by her chosen profession. Plus, we learn why she chose this job in the first place, the emotional struggle that she goes through, and we really do begin to care about her. Anna Kendrick does a great job helping us along — save for one crying scene that was far sillier than it needed to be — and ends up carrying more of the film than was likely intended. The focus of the filmmakers is on Clooney, but the attention of the audience is on her.
Up in the Air is a good film that was in need of a tighter focus and structure. A plot would have drastically improved it. Lacking one, it felt like a random assortment of events that were only loosely connected. It was hard to root for the main character, whose problems seemed incredibly limited and not very bad at all. The film was occasionally touching and funny, and I really liked Anna Kendrick’s character, but I’m not sure if it’s worth your time.