At only 32 years old, Jason Reitman once again proves that he is one of the few directors today who can merge cynical humor with old-fashioned sincerity. While his first film, Thank You for Smoking, tilted toward the former and his second film, Juno, tilted toward the latter, his latest, Up in the Air, strikes a balance that makes the cynical moments all the more funny and the sincere moments all the more heart-wrenching.
George Clooney's Ryan Bingham may not be an entirely plausible character, but his selfish bachelor is a perfect archetype of devotees to the idol of cheap success philosophies. A "career-transition counselor," he spends 355 days a year on the road firing people for companies too cowardly to handle their own layoffs. Relationships, he believes, are little more than a series of obligations that weigh down people and keep them from reaching their potential.
Ironically, while he preaches this message of rugged individualism at corporate seminars, he doesn't appear particularly successful himself-especially when his position is nearly made obsolete by a precocious 23-year-old Cornell grad (Anna Kendrick). And his pleasure at being a preferred guest of the airlines, hotels, and car rental agencies he frequents suggests he likes being part of a social network far more than he recognizes.
When finally he meets a woman (Vera Farmiga) who sparks a longing for something more than no-strings-attached sex, that desire spreads to other areas of his life as well. A heavy dosing of profanity along with nudity and sexual content give the film an R-rating, but despite these Up in the Air makes a sharp case that even the most shallow-seeming have a deep need for connection and love.