These days, it takes more than a smile to get me in a movie theater. I am far from the days when I worked at a theater and saw every movie released on 2003 just because, well, it was free (and the following year was shot for movie rentals – I’d already seen them all!). Don’t get me wrong, I love movies, but I go for the visual spectacle, the thrill of the big-screen. I have no problem watching an romantic comedy or indie film at home; not much is lost. But for some movies, like Lord of the Rings (my first real big-screen love), home-viewing just doesn’t cut it.

However, for this New Year’s Eve, I decided to head out and see Up in the Air, and I was pleasantly surprised, though I did walk in expecting a good movie to begin with. The movie begins with credits – which I always love, it sets the mood – that feature sweeping birds-eye shots from airplanes that manage to make the American landscape look, well, interesting. (Though I’m still not sure what those big circle-fields were for…)

Now, I’m not a big George Clooney fan – he’s not on my “list” if you know what I mean – but whenever I see him in a movie I remember how likeable he is as an actor. His character, who could have come off colder if played by another actor, is actually quite appealing, despite the fact that he’s pretty much the nightmare for any commitment-wanting woman on the planet. But you just can’t hate him, which makes the big surprise at the end (which I won’t give away) rather heartbreaking. 

This movie doesn’t have a “happy ending” per-se, but it does make a fairly effective point about life and the different ways of living it. There’s a big “follow your bliss” thing going on here, though it’s a bit hidden at times. The themes of freedom, humanity, and compassion are played out in a way that is unique compared to what else I’ve seen recently – Avatar, for example, was a visual spectacle which I recommend that everyone should see, but the story itself is not all that unique, and the ending is predictable. It makes you think, but maybe not so much about the issues – we’ve seen them before. Up in the Air, of course, isn’t saying anything new, exactly, but it leaves an nice aftertaste.

I must also say that Anna Kendrick is fascinating to watch. I’ve been a fan of hers since her first witty little quips in Twilight, and she doesn’t disappoint here. In fact, the casting for this movie was on point; even the numerous unknown actors portraying fired employees do a wonderful job of illustrating what is means to be an employee in today’s bleak economy.

The dialogue is also very entertaining, poignant without being overwhelming, and hilarious enough to balance the reality of the film. (I will forever remember the advice Clooney’s character gives for getting through the airport faster.) The same witty-banter between characters we saw in Juno is here, but toned down a bit with less of those silly catch-phrases (i.e. there’s no “your eggo is preggo”). It has language but not enough that it moves into Judd Apatow territory, which would be all wrong here.

This movie is, at heart, a character-driven piece that refreshingly captures a bit of struggle to negotiate life in the 21st century. Isn’t that nice?