Up in the Air may have been shut out at the Oscars on Sunday, but it’s still one of the year’s best — if not under-loved — films.
George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man who prefers to live out of a suitcase over settling down, and has made a career of criss-crossing the country as a “transition specialist” (read: he fires people for a living). Charming and efficient, Ryan’s world begins to shift when he’s forced to take a precocious ingenue named Natalie (Anna Kendrick) under his wing, and his company prepares to keep him on the ground. Amid this sea change, Ryan meets Alex (Vera Farmiga), a woman who gets him wondering if he’s ready to unpack for good.
The DVD edition of Up in the Air, which was released Tuesday, extends Ryan’s story as well of those of the many fired employees whose interviews figure largely in the film, through a handful of deleted scenes. As the scenes reveal, unsubtly, Ryan’s emerging yearning for domesticity and companionship, they also underscore just how smart the filmmakers’ final cutting decisions were and how easily a near-perfect movie can veer into material that panders. Plus: While it’s nice to see more of George Clooney playing boyfriend, it’s also nice to see that his mushy, aww-shucks moments were eschewed for what became a much tighter, streamlined package of a movie whose pacing matched the main character’s sensibility.
Along with more drool-time for Clooney fans, Up in the Air’s DVD also allows director Jason Reitman a chance to discuss at length the making of the film. In commentary he shares with first assistant director Jason Blumenfeld and cinematographer Eric Steelberg, Reitman gushes about their work, savoring details like how he discovered a song for the film or how they cast the airport TSA agents, with refreshing authenticity. His commentary serves as a warm and fuzzy contrast not only to Ryan’s steely philosophies, but also to some of the heavy topics that Up in the Air takes on.
Reitman’s film gives a face and voice to the silent masses of Americans who’ve been laid off in the past year, capturing the real tragedy of the current economic crisis. Yet, listening to him and his colleagues comment on their work — from their intentions behind how they lit a progression of scenes, to location choices and secret cameos (Reitman’s wife makes on of them) — it’s impossible not to absorb some of their enthusiasm. Transition specialists may be having their modern heyday, but finding work you love and making exciting films is, apparently, still possible.
Part of Up in the Air’s brilliance is that it can be read a variety of ways. For some, watching Clooney seduce and be seduced is enough grist to make the movie. For others, his character’s control issues become paramount. Still others — including this reviewer — might find the grim lay-off scenes the most resonant component of the film, and even more so in light of that fact that they’re mostly shot with non-actors who actually lost their jobs. Reitman, then, may not have had his big (and deserved) moment on stage at the Academy Awards, but his DVD allows him to beam with pride, long after award season is over.