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“Up In The Air” could be this decade’s “Fight Club.”

“Up In The Air” could be this decade’s “Fight Club.” (photo)

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Stills from “Up in the Air,” the new film from Jason “Juno” Reitman, have been gathered over at the Playlist, and while I’m not usually into the tea-leaf reading that occurs when an anticipated upcoming movie releases things like this, I’ll take any excuse to write about an adaptation I’ve been anticipating for almost a decade — one whose meaning has almost completely shifted.

Walter Kirn’s novel “Up in the Air” dropped in the summer of 2001, a more innocent age, to high sales and acclaim. It follows Ryan Bingham, “career transition counselor” (he fires people) and air-travel veteran, who waxes poetic about every aspect of his nomadic existence, the overwhelming sameness of hotel rooms, the miles and the artificial normality of travel. Kirn’s great zeitgeist contribution was the term “AirWorld,” denoting the sheer interchangeability of layouts no matter where you are in the airport system (a term promptly jacked by journalists reporting from extended sojourns inside). Bingham loves it, at least until he wonders if the system is trying to kill him; up to that point, he’s a lot like “Fight Club”‘s unnamed narrator, going on about “single-serving friends” but never wanting to leave.

But times, they have changed. In a (currently) print-only part of Entertainment Weekly‘s fall preview that the Playlist quotes, Reitman notes that between he started writing the scenes of Bingham’s job and filming them, any potential for playing the scenes for laugh faded. “I realized that wasn’t funny anymore,” Reitman explained, “and the film took on more dramatic tones.”

In Daniel Bell’s 1976 book “The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism,” the author tries to explain how the world’s most successful capitalist society produced so many dirty ’60s hippies. It’s the result, he claims, of too much success allowing for too much time for doubt in that success — it “undercut the beliefs and legitimations that sanctioned work and reward in American society.” In other words, Tyler Durden isn’t mindless capitalism’s casualty; he’s its logical end product. Too much success breeds too many people wondering how they got there, and if they deserve it.

Kirn’s Ryan Bingham was meant to be taken the same way — he only became self-aware after he was financially successful enough to have the luxury to think about why he was who he was. But whatever “Up in the Air” the movie turns out to be (and considering Reitman doesn’t have the directorial chops of David Fincher), it can’t possibly be a straight adaptation without seeming deliberately inappropriate; it’ll be a flashback to ten years ago, when success meant — at least for authors — automatic self-questioning. Today’s harried work-force can’t afford to beat itself up over being part of the beast.

If the characters in “Fight Club” could afford to fantasize about destroying banks/credit forever — and seem semi-understandable for doing so — a novel that’s aged only eight years will have to translate itself radically to explain why a corporate head-cutter has the time to question himself rather than simply hanging on, desperately, to his own job. (Reitman should just cut his losses and put a “2001” title card at the beginning, honestly.) But that could be great — “Up In The Air” could transform itself from a satire on business travel to a eulogy for the same, a meditation on what it means to hang on to the most despicable of jobs in desperate times while remembering how low-stakes it used to be.

Or it could just be another quirky dramedy. We shall see.

[Photo: George Clooney in “Up in the Air,” DreamWorks Pictures, 2009]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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