Sunday, January 3, 2010

What's In Your Backpack?

The much-hyped Up In The Air lives up to its billing and is worthy of its spot in its two-horse race against Avatar as the front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar (although I'd probably give it to Inglourious Basterds). Jason Reitman's movie is really the total package -- a great story, great writing, and some great performances. It's really quite funny -- the script has a good bit of one-liners and humorous events that had this blogger chuckling pretty often and smiling for much of the movie. But it's also very emotionally charged and not afraid to tackle difficult questions on life and the relationships that define it. Although not a particularly sad movie, there were a few scenes where people cried, and you'll find that you actually care about the fate of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) and his friends and family by the end of it.

The movie tells the story of Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizer that spends his life on the road. He has no real friends, no woman in his life, and his family barely knows him. When he's not firing people from random companies, he spends his days traveling around giving "inspirational" talks that are titled, "What's In Your Backpack?" The message is that we should try to keep the relationships of our lives (the things that would fill our metaphorical backpack) to a minimum so we don't have anything weighing us down and can stay on the move (to Ryan, moving is living).

He meets fellow traveler Alex (Vera Farmiga), and the two start a casual relationship that essentially consists of the two meeting whenever they are in the same city. But shortly thereafter, his company then decides to follow the advice of rising star Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) and start operating via webcams instead of in person (effectively grounding Bingham). But first, Bingham must take Keener along to show her the ropes. During their travels, Keener begins to question Bingham's lifestyle and ultimately gets to Bingham to reevaluate his life, culminating in him asking Alex to join him at his sister's wedding. I know this plot might sound like a corny love story between Bingham and Alex, but I assure you it's far from it. In fact, the movie is just as much about Bingham's relationship with Keener and to a lesser extent, his family.

As I previously mentioned, many of the parts were written specifically for the actors in the film. And it really shows. This movie is wonderfully cast. Clooney is terrific, Farmiga is perfect for her part, and smaller parts played by Danny McBride, Zach Galifianakis, and Jason Bateman are also very good. But, to me, the real star of this film was Anna Kendrick (if you've never heard of her, don't feel bad -- her big screen resume is pretty much Twilight and nothing else). She was absolutely fantastic. Despite being beautiful and humorously charming, Kendrick really shows her range by playing a fiery young businesswoman determined to prove she belongs but who is also a bit of a softie, dreaming about the perfect man and crying over failed relationships. She was far and away my favorite character of the movie and, in this blogger's opinion, should take home this year's Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (yes, even over Mo'nique's performance in Precious).

Bottom line: Believe the hype. This one is worthy of its praise. Go check it out. (A-)

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