By Jake Coyle
NEW YORK — “Up in the Air” has undergone the rarest of flights: It was delayed for a long time and its course was altered, yet it has arrived right on time.
“Up in the Air” might be the timeliest movie of the year. Hard times and the frightening prospect of unemployment are at the center of the movie, which many are calling an Academy Award favorite. Regardless of its Oscar prospects, it’s unquestionably of the moment.
In the latest film from director Jason Reitman (“Juno,” “Thank You for Smoking”), George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, who essentially lives in airports and hotels, contentedly jet-setting around the country as a contractor hired to fire people.
Reitman began writing the screenplay — based on Walter Kirn’s 2001 novel by the same name — six years ago when times were flush. He then conceived the film as a comedic satire.
“I wrote the scenes tonally consistent with a booming economy,” Reitman said in a recent interview. “By the time we were making the movie, a million people had lost their jobs. It was more appropriate to handle the scenes with a certain amount of gravity and authenticity.”
Reitman believes the best filmmaking comes from capitalizing on accidents, and essentially, he had one big, ugly accident in the economic meltdown.
“You have instincts that are driving you, and then things happen along the way,” says the 32-year-old writer-director. “It’s how you react as things happen that determines whether a film turns out to be good.”
Other things changed, too. He married writer Michele Lee in 2004, and the couple had a child two years later. The success of “Juno” (four Oscar nominations, including a win for Diablo Cody’s screenplay) also catapulted the career of Reitman, whose father is the esteemed comedy director Ivan Reitman.
“Over the course of writing it, I went from a single guy living in an apartment to a married guy with a kid and a mortgage,” says Reitman. “I started to understand the value of companionship. And these are things that my character had to go through himself.”