AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Up in the Air
Director: Jason Reitman (Dir)
Release Date:   25 Dec 2009
Duration (in mins):  108-109
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Cast: George Clooney  (Ryan Bingham)
  Vera Farmiga  (Alex Goran)
  Anna Kendrick  (Natalie Keener)

Summary: After spending the day dismissing employees at various companies, trying to reassure them with phrases such as “this is the beginning” and it is “part of a process,” corporate downsizer Ryan Bingham efficiently packs his Travelpro carry-on suitcase and glides through the airport. Constant business travel has afforded the privileges of frequent flyer lounges and free upgrades to Ryan, who feels at home in the air and prefers interacting with airline and hotel employees to relationships with family or close friends. In addition to his work as a downsizer, Ryan is also a corporate motivational speaker, who expounds on his philosophy of living without material or emotional encumbrances with the catchphrase, “What’s in your backpack?” When Ryan calls his office in Omaha, his boss at CTC, Craig Gregory, insists that he must return to Omaha by the end of the week for something important. In the bar of the Dallas Airport Hilton, Ryan meets Alex Goran, an attractive fellow business traveler in her thirties with whom he flirtatiously compares corporate preferred customer cards. Alex is particularly impressed with Ryan’s graphite American Airlines Concierge level card, which will lead to the ultimate frequent flyer miles goal Ryan has set for himself. Later, after having sex in Ryan’s room, they agree to meet again when their busy travel schedules converge. The next day, as Ryan is shopping for ties in an airport shop, his sister Kara telephones to ask if he plans to attend their younger sister Julie’s wedding. Ryan does not want to commit when Kara tells him that she is sending a FedEx package containing a cardboard cutout of Julie and her fiancé, Jim Miller, and expects him to takes pictures of the cutout in several places, including the front of the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. Back in Omaha, after unpacking in his small, efficiency apartment, Ryan’s neighbor gives him the FedEx package, then declines his offer to see him that night because she is in a relationship. At the office the next day, Ryan is horrified when he learns that newly hired employee Natalie Keener, an intense, recent business school graduate, is pitching a new corporate strategy called “Glocal—our global must become local” that radically changes their business by enabling the downsizers to dismiss dozens of people every day through video conferencing. Most downsizers are happy not to travel so much, and Craig is impressed by an eighty-percent cut in their travel budget, but Ryan is chagrined, especially when Natalie demonstrates the video conferencing model using a script written by him. Ryan cannot dissuade Craig from going through with the plan, but Craig concedes that Natalie needs some person-to-person experience and sends her out with Ryan for training. At the Omaha airport, annoyed by Natalie’s large, over-packed suitcase, Ryan takes her to buy a Travelpro. As they approach the security check-in to board their flight, Ryan imparts his travel wisdom, which she either ignores or disdains. In St. Louis, when Ryan receives a call from Alex, who is in Atlanta, they arrange to meet again in Dallas. The next day, Natalie sits silently beside Ryan as he gives termination notices to various employees. When Bob, one of the men losing his job, becomes hostile, Natalie jumps into the conversation. Her clichés further inflame Bob until Ryan salvages the situation by telling him to follow his youthful dream of becoming a chef. That night at dinner, Ryan explains frequent flyer miles programs to Natalie and tells her that his goal is 10,000,000 miles, a level reached by only six other people, fewer than have walked on the moon. In the morning, as Natalie helps Ryan take a picture of the cutout beside the St. Louis airport, he cannot understand why she is unimpressed by an airport from which the Wright brothers and Charles Lindbergh flew. In Wichita, a bored Natalie begs Ryan to let her fire the next person. When Karen Barnes hears the news, she calmly asks what the severence package is, then says that her plans are to go to a beautiful bridge near her home and jump off. Shaken, Natalie immediately runs out the building, followed by Ryan, who assures her that people frequently say things like that, but never mean it. As they travel to various cities, the stress of firing people begins to take a toll on Natalie, who is beginning to understand the human consequences of losing a job. In Miami, after watching Ryan deliver one of his motivational speeches, Natalie receives a text message from her boyfriend Brian saying that he wants to break up. As she starts to cry later, Ryan is chagrined but comforts her. Later, Alex, whom Ryan had arranged to meet, joins them. Over drinks, Natalie reveals that she gave up a good job offer in San Francisco to join Brian, who found a position in Omaha. Alex’s gentle advice helps to calm Natalie, who decides to join her and Ryan when they crash a corporate party that night. Despite her feelings of rejection by Brian, Natalie enjoys the party and spends the night with a nice “techie” guy she meets at the party. Meanwhile, Alex and Ryan confess that they like each other before Alex has to leave for an early morning flight. After breakfast, Natalie helps Ryan take another picture of the cutout, then angrily confronts him for thinking of his relationship with Alex as casual. Their next city is Detroit, which Ryan cautions is tough because the city has been hard hit by job losses. Once at their destination, they are directed to a room in which Craig speaks with them on a video conferencing hookup. Despite Ryan’s misgivings, Craig tells them that Natalie is to take the lead on this assignment and use the new video conferencing technique. Natalie is nervous, but sticks to her script when dismissing the first person, Mr. Samuels, a fifty-seven-year-old man. As Samuels starts to raise his voice and cry while listening to Natalie recite her script, she and Ryan suddenly realize that Samuels is sitting in the next room. Natalie is shaken when she watches a deflated Samuels walk past, but determines to carry on. That night, in the airport, Natalie apologizes to Ryan for accusing him of being emotionally isolated. Although they both are scheduled to fly back to Omaha, Ryan suddenly decides to fly to Las Vegas to take a picture of the cutout in front of the Luxor Hotel. He is assisted by Alex, whom he convinces to be his “plus one” at Julie’s wedding that weekend in Minnesota. When they arrive at Ryan’s snowy hometown, miles north of Milwaukee, Ryan runs into Kara in the hotel and learns that she recently separated from her husband. That night, at the rehearsal dinner, after Ryan places his snapshots among the dozens of others taken by friends, he and Julie are friendly, but awkward around each other. He learns that, because Jim is investing all of their money into a real estate venture, the staged vacation photographs are substitutes for pictures they would have taken on their honeymoon. The next day, as Ryan is showing Alex around his old high school, he receives a call from Kara, who reports that Julie needs him because Jim has gotten cold feet and reminds him that he is a motivational speaker. After helping Jim realize that he simply is nervous and really wants Julie to be his “co-pilot” in life, the couple goes through with the wedding. The morning after they have had a wonderful time at the wedding, Alex and Ryan are about to take separate flights at the Milwaukee airport when Ryan asks her to visit him in Omaha. She hesitates, asking if he is going to change, then tells him to call her when he gets lonely. In the CTC office, Natalie shows Ryan a bank of computer screens on which a number of young employees are being trained to use video conferences to dismiss people. Ryan soon returns to Las Vegas where he has a speaking engagement with Goalquest XX, a significant step above his other clients. After starting his speech with his “what’s in your backpack?” line, he hesitates, then shakes his head and runs out. He then flies to Chicago and rushes to Alex’s house. After she answers the door and scowls, he is stunned to realize that she has a husband and two children. The next morning, as Ryan is about to board an American Airlines flight back to Omaha, Alex calls to berate him for almost ruining her real life, saying that she thought that he understood that their relationship was merely an escape. She then says that if he wants to see her again, to give her a call. During the plane ride to Omaha, a flight attendant happily announces that one of their passengers has just passed the 10,000,000 miles threshold. Maynard Finch, the airline’s head pilot, whom Ryan has long admired, sits down and awards Ryan his exclusive frequent flyer card, saying that the airline appreciates his loyalty. When Maynard asks Ryan where he is from, Ryan simply answers “I’m from here.” Back in Omaha, after Ryan calls the dedicated number on his 10,000,000 mile card and transfers 500,000 miles to Julie and Jim so that they can take a trip around the word, Craig comes into his office. He asks if Ryan remembers Karen Barnes, a woman who was fired in Wichita, because she jumped off a bridge and killed herself. When Ryan says he does not remember the case, then asks if Natalie is all right, Craig tells him that she resigned, via text message. Craig tells him that CTC is stopping the video conferencing experiment and plans to put Ryan and the other downsizers back on the road to continue what they had been doing. In San Francisco, Natalie is being interviewed by the company that had offered her the job she turned down to follow Brian. The man interviewing her shows her a glowing letter of recommendation that Ryan wrote and offers her the job. A short time later, Ryan enters the airport terminal, walks up to the departures and arrivals board and stares at it. 

Distribution Company: Paramount Pictures Corp.
Cold Spring Pictures
DW Studios L.L.C.
Production Company: The Montecito Picture Company
Rickshaw Productions
Right of Way Films
Director: Jason Reitman (Dir)
  Jason Blumenfeld (1st asst dir)
  Sonia Bhalla (2d asst dir)
  Patty Long (Addl 2d asst dir, Detroit crew)
  Joseph Payton (2d 2d asst dir)
  Steve Dale (2d 2d asst dir, Miami crew)
  Patrick Cunningham (2d 2d asst dir, Las Vegas crew)
  Heather L. Hogan (Addl 2d 2d asst dir)
Producer: Daniel Dubiecki (Prod)
  Jeffrey Clifford (Prod)
  Ivan Reitman (Prod)
  Jason Reitman (Prod)
  Ted Griffin (Exec prod)
  Michael Beugg (Exec prod)
  Tom Pollock (Exec prod)
  Joe Medjuck (Exec prod)
  Ali Bell (Assoc prod)
  Jason Blumenfeld (Assoc prod)
  Helen Estabrook (Assoc prod)
Writer: Jason Reitman (Scr)
  Sheldon Turner (Scr)

Subject Major: Airports
  Dismissal (Employment)
  Love affairs
  Voyages and travel
Subject Minor: American Airlines
  Brothers and sisters
  Chicago (IL)
  Conventions (Gatherings)
  Dallas (TX)
  Employer-employee relations
  Family relationships
  Financial crisis
  Frequent flyer programs
  Hilton Hotels
  Las Vegas (NV)
  Miami (FL)
  Omaha (NE)
  St. Louis (MO)
  San Francisco (CA)
  Telephones, Mobile
  Text messaging
  Video conferencing

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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