One of the strengths of the film is that everybody in it has their established worlds rocked, and frequently by a means they're all too familiar with. Nobody's safe, not the guy who's losing his job, and not the guy who telling him he's losing it. Irony plays upon irony in a cruel way, not unlike in a Billy Wilder film, but leavened with an understated understanding. These are self-aware people, not on the cusp of discovery, but settled into the muck of their worlds, and making the best of it, only to find that the best of it has its drawbacks.
Look, kids, I'm an old guy. One of the amusements of my dotage is sagely (but kindly) smiling at the unironic stating of "the obvious" from kids on their way up, from the vantage point (lofty, but getting less so on the way down) of someone "of my age." Fact is, goals are great, but once they've been achieved, where do you go from there? More of the same? Lateral move? Accelerating off-course? "Settling?" Life is not a sprint-race. It's a marathon.
And Natalie's plight—being left "up in the air" of her relationship—is only the disaster it seems to be right out of the blocks. It probably wouldn't have worked, anyway. Both are kids devoted to their jobs, and this stage, more than they are than to each other.
But, don't tell her that. She doesn't know what she doesn't know. None of us do and in the process of living is the way we learn. Victories and losses are only temporary things and get lost in the big picture. Temporary things...like jobs (not careers—and even them) or relationships. And the further down the road one travels, the less "perfect" are the dreams we hold. We grow older. We grow wiser. And, hopefully, at an equal rate ("hopefully" being an unrealistic expectation, itself).
There's a lot of wisdom in this scene, rueful though it is. And it's played dexterously by all involved.
The Story: Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) has a good job informing others they've been deprived of theirs. But, on the side he is a guest lecturer on business travel in today's jet age. Rootless, a vagabond, a lone wolf, for this particular trip, he's saddled with Natalie (Anna Kendrick) a young up-and-comer with an idea towards using the Internet and Skype to cut down on the expenses of letting people go. Turnabout, however, is fair play. She's just been dumped by her boyfriend and seeks out advice from the old folks—Ryan and his casual partner in frequent flying, Alex (Vera Famiga)—in an airport bar.
THE SCREEN OF NATALIE'S CALL PHONE
TEXT READS: "I think it's time we c other people"
INT. BAR LOUNGE - HOMESTEAD SUITES - MOMENTS LATER
The three share a booth. Natalie is sipping a drink. She seems to have settled a little.
ALEX He broke up with you over text message?
RYAN (soft dig) That's kind of like firing people over the internet.
Both Natalie and Alex shoot Ryan a look.
NATALIE Yeah, but what does that make me? Someone who falls for a prick?
ALEX We all fall for them. Pricks are spontaneous, unpredictable, and fun. And then we're surprised when they turn out to be pricks.
NATALIE I followed him to Omaha.
RYAN You did?
NATALIE I had a job waiting for me in San Fran, when he got an offer from ConAgra. He told me we could start a life together. So I followed him.
NATALIE I look in the mirror and I just see compromise... I'm supposed to do something.
ALEX It's alright.
RYAN None taken.
NATALIE When I was sixteen, I thought by twenty three, I would be married, maybe have a kid... Corner office by day, entertaining at night. I was supposed to be driving a Grand Cherokee by now.
ALEX Life can underwhelm you that way.
NATALIE Now I have my sights on twenty nine, because thirty is just way too...apocalyptic. I mean, where did you think you'd be by...
Natalie catches herself, having no idea how old Alex is.
ALEX It doesn't work that way.
RYAN At a certain point, you stop with the deadlines.
ALEX They can be a little counterproductive.
NATALIE I don't want to say anything that's... anti-feminist. I mean, I appreciate everything your generation did for me.
ALEX (my generation?) It was our pleasure.
RYAN Well done.
NATALIE But sometimes it feels like no matter how much success I have, it all won't matter until I find the right guy.
ALEX You really thought this guy was the one.
NATALIE Yeah, I guess. I don't know. I could have made it work. He just really fit the bill.
RYAN The bill?
NATALIE My type. You know, white collar. College grad. Loves dogs. Likes funny movies.
NATALIE Six foot one. Brown hair.
NATALIE Kind eyes.
NATALIE Works in finance but is Outdoorsy, you know, on the weekends.
(we think she's done)
NATALIE I always imagined he'd have a single syllable name like Matt or John or... Dave.
NATALIE In a perfect world...
NATALIE ...he drives a Four Runner and the only thing he loves more than me is his golden lab.
NATALIE Oh... and a nice smile.
(back to Alex and Ryan)
NATALIE How about you?
This catches both Alex and Ryan off guard.
RYAN I'm not sure if...
NATALIE I meant Alex...
ALEX Huh, let me think for a sec.
(mulls it over)
ALEX Well, by this time you're thirty four, all the physical requirements are pretty much out the window. I mean you secretly pray he'll be taller than you.
ALEX Not an asshole would be nice? Just someone who enjoys my company. Comes from a good family -
ALEX You don't think about that when you're younger.
ALEX Wants kids... Likes kids... Wants kids.
ALEX Healthy enough...
ALEX ...to play catch with his future son one day.
We can tell Ryan is taking a serious interest in this.
ALEX Please let him earn more than I do.
ALEX That doesn't make sense now...
ALEX ...but believe me, it will one day. Otherwise it's just a recipe for disaster.
ALEX Hopefully some hair on his head...?
ALEX But it's not...
ALEX ...exactly a deal-breaker anymore.
ALEX Nice smile...
ALEX Yep, a nice smile just might do it.
Alex looks at Ryan. He has a nice smile.
NATALIE Wow. That was depressing.
Alex and Ryan react - It's not that bad.
NATALIE I should just date women.
ALEX Tried it.
ALEX We're no picnic ourselves.
Natalie looks worse than when the conversation started.
NATALIE I don't mind being married to my career, and I don't expect it to hold me in bed as I fall asleep.
NATALIE I just don't want to settle.
ALEX You're young. Right now you see settling as some sort of failure.
NATALIE It is. My definition.
ALEX Don't worry, by the time someone is right for you, it won't feel like settling... And the only person left to judge you will be the twenty four year old girl with a target on your back.
Natalie cracks a smile.
Ryan looks at Alex. They've grown closer.
Up in the Air
Words by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner
Pictures by Eric Steelberg and Jason Reitman
Up in the Air is available on DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment.