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Up in the Air
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that director Jason Reitman's thoughtful drama about a man (played by George Clooney) who fires people for a living (criss-crossing the country by plane to do so) examines uncomfortable, grown-up truths both timely (unemployment, financial stress) and perennial -- family dysfunction and loneliness. Still, despite its heavy themes, strong language (including "s--t" and "f--k"), and some sexual interplay between characters (including brief rear nudity), it has enormous empathy and insight that may resonate with older teens who are trying to grapple with and understand increasingly complex issues.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) has a dream: To be the seventh person ever to accumulate 10 million frequent-flier miles. And he’s not far off. He spends 270 days a year in the air; airports and planes and hotels are home to him. When he’s not on the motivational circuit, extolling the virtues of carrying a lightly packed symbolic backpack -- both objects and people can weigh you down, you see -- he’s zigzagging the country to assist companies in firing their workers. And amazingly, he does it with more than a modicum of empathy and soul. But a young upstart (Twilight supporting player Anna Kendrick) is convinced that the process can be mechanized -- which could ground Bingham short of his goal, take him away from another business traveler (Vera Farmiga) he’s fallen in love with, and make him examine what -- and where -- is really home.
Is it any good?
UP IN THE AIR is by no means perfect. To start, it hits screenplay mileposts a little too on the nose, like an A student raising his hand for yet another crack at an answer we know he'll get. And yet it takes us to places we never quite expect. It’s irreverent when we think it will be serious; serious when we think it will go for laughs. It’s surprising -- and that doesn’t happen often in the movies these days.
Based on a bestselling novel by Walter Kirn, Jason Reitman's film is literary without being self-consciously so. Clooney delivers perhaps his best performance yet, with more nuance and less reliance on his usual tics (the downcast looks, the easy smile). The vulnerability he displays with Farmiga, a worthy female counterpart, convinces but doesn’t overplay. Bingham's journey is one we’ve all found ourselves on: how to connect in a world that makes it so easy to be within reach, yet so hard to reach out, even to family. It also captures these challenging times, when jobs and, yes, people seem expendable. And yet, they’re not: The film gives them a voice, one downsized worker at a time.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Bingham’s job: Is it a difficult one? Does he enjoy it? Why does he seem committed to doing it? Does it make him a bad guy or good? What about Natalie, his colleague?
How does the movie capture a particular moment in history? Does it seem realistic, or has it been Hollywood-ized?
Who do you think the movie is trying to reach? Does it succeed?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.