Nearly flawless comedy-drama with George Clooney as a "professional firer" who spends over 300 days a year flying around the United States in order to lay off strangers at various downsizing companies. Up in the Air may be an extraordinarily timely document of life during these bleak economic times, but that's just a framework for the human drama that is at the core of the story, where the happily noncommittal Clooney - who loathes the nearly-empty apartment that serves as his "home" in Omaha, and barely connects with his two sisters - meets a fellow traveler (Vera Farmiga, with whom he has great chemistry) and starts wondering if maybe there is more to life than collecting frequent flier miles.
The story's only forced moment is when Clooney is saddled with a young protege (a wonderful Anna Kendrick), whom he needs to drag around the country as he teaches her how to properly fire somebody, but Kendrick portrays her stiff, insecure character perfectly. In fact by far the finest aspect of this fine movie is its cast. Clooney has never been more likable, even if we are made to feel ambivalent toward his character, and Farmiga and Kendrick, two talented actresses who happily have not (yet) been overexposed by the media, are perfect foils for him. And of course I must mention my former muse Melanie Lynskey as Clooney's baby sister. She must have gotten a new agent or something, because this is the third prestige picture with a hip director she's been in this year, after Sam Mendes' Away We Go and Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! Fans of Lynskey will find nothing new in her performance, but she is sweet as usual.
Director Reitman hits just the right tone, combining the snappy patter of a 1930s screwball comedy with unsentimental pathos (most of the employees whom Clooney and Kendrick fire on screen are non-actors, chosen from a pool of real Americans who had recently been laid off) and a bittersweet finale.
I can't say I loved this film, but that's only because I've become aware that to truly love a movie, there has to be something crazy and inexplicable about it. Up in the Air is an elegantly crafted and totally sane film, and thus cannot engender the adoration that I save for quirkier titles. But I can, and did, like it very much, and I'd recommend it to anybody.