By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Though a polished comic drama, "Up in the Air" (Paramount) also is an abortive conversion story with a morally ambivalent conclusion.
As soon as we’re introduced to emotionally isolated, yet strangely contented, single businessman Ryan Bingham (a predictably deft George Clooney), we know he’s ripe for change.
Ryan spends most of his life in chain hotels and airports as he travels from city to city firing employees on behalf of downsizing corporate clients. He also gives seminars in which he uses a backpack to symbolize the weighty burden, not only of material possessions, but of family and social connections as well.
But Ryan’s rootless ways are threatened by his tech-savvy new colleague Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who wants their company to save expenses by terminating workers via the Internet, thus grounding Ryan permanently at the Tulsa, Okla., home office.
As Ryan takes Natalie on the road to demonstrate the futility of her scheme, he also reveals the combination of calm ruthlessness and insightful compassion that make him a master of his unusual craft. (Poignant scenes involving the distressed reactions of those being informed that their positions are "no longer available" were filmed using real workers recently laid off in Detroit and St. Louis.)
Another potential tear in Ryan’s cocoon is achieved when his relationship with fellow executive wanderer Alex (Vera Farmiga), begun as a casual bedroom romp, gradually turns into something deeper. An invitation to his sister’s wedding, meanwhile, also has Ryan reconsidering the value of family life.
Director and co-writer (with Sheldon Turner) Jason Reitman’s screen version of Walter Kirn’s novel is initially engaging and adroitly acted throughout. But the script winks at commitment-free encounters, while what appear at first to be the life-altering events of the plot turn out to be mere incidents with, the narrative suggests, little spiritual impact.
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Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.
The film contains off-screen adulterous and nonmarital sexual activity, brief rear nudity, much sexual talk including lesbianism and masturbation references, a few uses of profanity and much rough and crude language. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.