Monday, January 4, 2010

Up In The Air

Spoiler Alert – Major Plot Points Will Be Revealed

If you haven’t seen the movie and have any plans to, stop reading right here. Major plot points will be discussed. Go see the movie. It's great.

I expected a light-hearted, probably shallow, mostly-predictable romantic comedy. What I got, to my delight, was a smart, subtle, multi-layered, slightly melancholy story of a man who spends most of his life on the road as a gun-for-hire confronting the reality of his life.

We meet Ryan as his company is on the edge of a revolutionary change in their business model, replacing face-to-face firings with web-based chats. More than a bit skeptical and clearly threatened by the prospect of “coming home,” Ryan makes enough noise that the company sends him back out on the road with the young new hotshot behind the change in tow. Ryan has also recently met a woman, Alex, another road warrior who appears to be the female version of him.

On the surface, Ryan appears to be a classic commitment-phobe whose constant travel masks his need to avoid emotional entanglement. This idea is further enforced by his side-line gig as a motivational speaker whose “What’s in Your Backpack” spiel encourages people to disentangle themselves from all their “stuff,” including relationships, weighing them down and to keep moving. However, as you start to get to know Ryan, you realize everything is not quite what it seems. You see glimpses of his true passion, aviation and maybe all the travel is his way of spending as much time as he can in the world he loves. (I wondered why he didn’t become a pilot.)

While the story flirts with serious subject mater and is told against the backdrop of people being fired, it avoids being depressing. It is sexy, fun and very funny. {Side note, they recruited the people being fired by placing ads for a documentary film; so most of the time you are seeing real people working out their frustrations over losing their jobs.}

I found the ambiguous ending perfect. You get to see Ryan begin to change and wake up to greater possibilities, but the movie avoids the magical Hollywood happy ending, something for which I am eternally grateful.

There are two places the story could have gone the predictable route, but didn’t. First , as Ryan is about to give his first motivation speech in the “big time,” you see that his heart isn’t in it any longer, but instead of having him ad-lib on how he’s now realized how wrong he was, blah, blah, blah, he leaves the stage and runs to catch a plane. Of course, he’s on his way to see Alex, but again, kudos for not going the easy way. Instead of the big emotional declaration of love scene which ends with everybody living happily ever after, he arrives at Alex’s Chicago brownstone to discover she’s married with kids. Ouch.

I choose to believe that Ryan gets his happy ending, eventually. That he chooses to change his life and finds love along that path.

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