Jason Reitman, writer-director of the 2007 hit Juno, teams up with screen star George Clooney for a bittersweet comedy about a traveling business executive and his job of firing people at companies caught in the economic recession. It has already picked up numerous critics awards and the film is expected to be among the top contenders for Hollywood's top annual honors, the Oscars. Here's a look at Up In The Air.
"To know me is to fly with me. This is where I live. When I run my card the system automatically prompts the desk clerk to greet me with this exact statement: 'A pleasure to see you again, Mr. Bingham.' It is these kinds of systemized friendly touches that keep my world in orbit."
What Ryan Bingham loves most is relaxing in the first class cabin of a jetliner on a cross-country flight. It is certainly easier than his job.
But Ryan's carefully organized world gets shaken up when he meets Alex, a woman executive as thrilled as he is by the perks of a frequent flyer account with hundreds of thousands of kilometers.
A relationship develops and funny things happen, but star George Clooney does not label Up In The Air a romantic comedy.
"This was a film from the very beginning that I didn't think of as a romantic film," Clooney says. "I thought of it as comedy, but I also thought of it as sad. I didn't think of it necessarily as a romantic film, although it has great romantic underpinnings."
Vera Farmiga co-stars as Alex and says, more than a flirtatious fling, her character and Clooney's quickly build a strong connection.
"I think they connect on many levels. I think there is a physical attraction. There is a mental attraction," Farmiga explains. "They both love to use their words and there is a rhythm …a frequency, a kinetic energy that people just have. She is as on the go as he is. The initial attraction is the shared language of bonus miles and flyer points and things that titillate them."
Add to the mix: Ryan's inexperienced colleague from work, Anna Kendrick as Natalie, fresh out of college with her business degree and eager to change the world.
"I think the fact that when I got this role every single person that I know asked if I get to kiss George Clooney shows how rare it is for a young woman to be in a film and be a lead, but not be a romantic lead - for her to be smart and strong and interesting and have so many of her own problems and this incredible story, but have no story that involves romance or sex. It's so rare," Kendrick says.
Punctuating Up In The Air is the day-to-day work for Ryan and Natalie: telling people that their jobs no longer exist.
"When I started writing this script it was seven years ago and we were in an economic boom. By the time I finished writing it we were in one of the worst recessions on record," explains writer-director Jason Reitman. He says the economic downturn in the real world altered his film in dramatic ways.
"I was location scouting in St. Louis and Detroit and I was seeing a lot of empty buildings," notes Reitman. "They were great locations, but the reason they were empty was because so many departments had been laid off. And the realities of the world I was living in really set in and I knew I could not use the firing scenes that I had originally written. I needed to do something that was more authentic."
What he did was to interview real people, not actors, who had actually lost their jobs.
"Look, I'm a director and my job is to get people to be honest on camera," Reitman says. "That can be difficult, even with trained professionals; but when we would start using the legal verbiage - I got an actual firing form from a friend of mine who works in human resources - and they started to hear it the responses were startling. They said the kinds of things that I would never think to write as a writer. They acted in a way that I would never think to direct them as a director. It was those few days of interviewing those people that set the tone for the entire shoot."
In the end, however, Reitman says that is not what the film is about.
"Up In The Air is not a movie about corporate termination," he says. "It is about trying to find out how you want to complete your life: who do you want in your life [and] what do you want in your life? That's something that everyone can understand."
Up In The Air is adapted from the novel by Walter Kim. The cast also includes Jason Bateman, Melanie Lynskey and Danny McBride. The musical score is by British composer Rolfe Kent.