Up in the Air is a departure from the standard drama-romance film, and makes a statement of living in contemporary society. The film is quite in tune with the horrors of being called into a boss’s office. In this economic climate almost every firm is downsizing, and getting fired can be traumatic and stressful. Up in the Air follows Ryan Bingham, a frequent flyer who makes a living firing employees on behalf of companies. He is also a part time public speaker who preaches about a life free of relationships with people and things—a mantra he enjoys practicing himself.
However, the timely arrivals of Natalie, a young and inexperienced coworker, and Alex, another frequent flyer whom Ryan establishes a relationship with, begin to challenge Ryan’s philosophy of a relationship-free life. The crucial moment comes Ryan’s own beliefs and admitting that the most important and joyful moments in life are rarely experienced alone. Convinced of a new lifestyle, Ryan flies to Alex’s home only to discover that she is married and only finds him as an escape from real life. At that point Ryan realizes that his life and career have been meaningless without another person to share his pleasures and happiness.
Up in the Air is at once an entertaining comedy, heart-felt drama and realistic depiction of the tough economic times. The film has received positive reviews from almost every major critic in the industry. Some of the most impressive accolades the film has received include winning the Golden Globe for best screenplay along with nominations for best picture, best director, best actor, and two nominations for best supporting actress. The film received glowing reviews from the Los Angeles Times, USA Today and Entertainment weekly, among others. Even the reviews that do not portray the movie in a positive light acknowledge its likeability and cinematic quality. These critics do seem to be put-off by the shallowness of the film however, saying, “It's like airplane air -- it has a packaged freshness that isn't really fresh at all” (Salon.com), or, “[Up in the Air] has the lifespan of a state-fair churro: tasty at the point of consumption, it congeals soon afterward into its component ingredients of sugar and lard.” (Slate) The only strictly negative reviews of the film come from users on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.
The tragic ending to the story only emphasizes further the importance of having a relationship. Ryan’s easygoing and charismatic character allows viewers to identify with him even though he has an uncommon ideal. When viewers realize the disappointment that Ryan has finally succumbed to because he has resisted a relationship his entire career, that importance of relationship is revealing as it is startling. Because Up in the Air does not follow the typical cheerful ending of a romantic comedy, the themes of the film are conveyed much stronger and more effectively.