With just three movies under his belt, director Jason (son of Ivan) Reitman has already managed to establish his own distinctive, confident filmmaking style, without - so far - becoming trapped by it (see Andersonian; Tarantinian). Like Juno and Thank You For Smoking, Reitman's latest, Up in the Air, has a killer soundtrack, stylish montages, is cynical but life-affirming, and at times, probably a little too clever for its own good.
George Clooney, in full on charming-but-emotionally-unavailable mode, stars as perpetually traveling corporate downsizer Ryan Bingham, and again, as with Reitman's other films, Up in the Air is fueled by solid, honest performances from an engaging cast of characters. When Bingham's detached lifestyle is threatened by the relationships he reluctantly forms - with a young coworker (Anna Kendrick) whose newly developed software threatens to put Bingham himself out of a job, a fellow frequent flyer/romantic interest (Vera Farmiga), and his about-to-be-married sister (Melanie Lynskey) - the story grapples with, but never spoon-feeds, hefty life lessons.
With its focus on unemployment and opportunity, technology and disengagement, the movie certainly feels timely - a sentiment further bolstered by the inclusion of real-life testimonies from the recently laid off (including one in the form of a song which plays over the end credits) - and its grownup premise is a rewarding one. The script (by Reitman and Sheldon Turner, whose only prior credits are dreck like Longest Yard and Texas Chainsaw remakes) may often be acerbic, but its emotions are very real; whenever the film threatens to venture too far into the cliche-ridden motivational speech territory it purports to send up, the story takes a different turn. If Up in the Air's message is ambiguous, that simply speaks to how effectively it serves as a current cultural barometer.