Walter Kirn's 2001 novel "Up in the Air" rather brilliantly depicted the inner life of one Ryan Bingham.
A corporate downsizing facilitator desperate for both a new job and more frequent flier miles, Bingham thought in a perceptive stream-of-consciousness informed by state-of-the-art marketing concepts.
It was a pretty great book, but a tough one to turn into a movie. Especially after the Sept. 11 attacks, as Bingham's cushy life in the privileged business class of what he called Airworld became increasingly unrealistic in a time of airline cost-cutting and inconvenienced travelers.
But Jason Reitman, the director of "Juno," has nonetheless made "Up in the Air" into a compelling, relevant movie, with George Clooney all-too-perfectly cast as the charmingly untethered Bingham.
He did it by pretty much rewriting the story from scratch.
"Have times changed? Yes," Reitman notes. "One, security protocol in flying completely changed. Two, when the book came out, we were in an economic boom and now we're in a recession like no other. But one thing did not change. This has always been a story about a man who thinks life is somehow better alone.
"Whatever the differences - whether it's the sexual flings that he goes on in the book versus the romantic relationship that he develops in my movie, or it's the fact that we never actually read about him firing someone but he repeatedly does it in the movie - the one thing that remains is that you have a guy who believes in the idea of living clean; nobody, no thing. That's what I wanted to make a movie about from the beginning."
Among Reitman's most engaging additions are the new women of Airworld: Vera Farmiga's Alex, Ryan's no-strings female counterpart whose very disdain for attachment makes him think about settling down; Anna Kendrick's Natalie, a young, scarily self-possessed new hire whose plans to digitize Ryan's business could destroy his cherished lifestyle; and Melanie Lynskey's Julie, Ryan's sister, whose wedding crises differ significantly from the character's in the book.
They all bring distinct viewpoints to what had been an exclusively male story, and in the process turn Airworld into a place where real people could live.
"Up in the Air"
STARRING: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick
RATED: R for language and some sexual content
RUNNING TIME: 1 hour, 49 minutes