GAMBLE: ‘Up in the Air’ touches down Friday

MollyWell, it looks like Christmas has come early this year — on Dec. 4, to be exact. That’s when the much acclaimed, much praised comedy-drama “Up in the Air” hits theaters. This movie has been on the top of my Wish List for months. So, in an effort to qualm my anticipatory nerves, I picked up the book upon which the movie is based. I read it in two days flat over break.

Sharp and satirical, I strongly recommend this book, especially if you plan to do any holiday traveling. Written by Walter Kirn, the novel gives a glimpse into the lives of those in “Airworld,” as Kirn calls it — a subculture in which people know cities by their airports.

These are the frequent fliers who have perfected the yoga-like art of sleeping comfortably in Economy, haven’t been home in weeks and don’t bother to look out the plane window anymore because it all looks the same. I feel for these nomads more than I did before reading and will see them in a different light next time I fly.

Most movies don’t generate this much anticipation, but a few gems do. These are the flawless Christmas presents, the ones that you wait lingering autumn months for. I’m hoping “Up In the Air,” is one of them. So far, it’s packing a serious punch, winning over critics left and right.

Directed by Jason Reitman (“Thank You For Smoking,” “Juno”) and starring the perfectly cast George Clooney, this comedy makes economic downturns funny and today’s endangered emotional connection more important than ever. Rolling Stone magazine hails it as excellent. Movie critics have praised it since September. There are whispers of Oscars.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) deals with some emotional issues in a unique way. Conventional sad stories are as intriguing as Nutrition Facts. I prefer quirky emotional messes, like the story of a guy so avoidant of emotional connections that he lives his life in the sky.

Bingham spends his days and nights in airplanes traveling around the U.S. for business. His title is “career transition counselor,” or described in fewer syllables: he sacks people. He hands them a stuffed teddy bear to kick or punch when they get the ax.

With the recent bum economy, if this isn’t the perfect time for a comedy about getting fired, I don’t know what is. The opportunity to laugh at our own misfortune? That makes a great Christmas gift of a movie right there.

Bingham’s life goal is to accumulate one million frequent flyer miles (revised to ten million for the movie) and he’s almost there. He’s homeless after selling his house, divorced and prefers to know a little about a lot of people rather than vice versa. His truest loves are trysts in chain hotels. His best friends are his seatmates. Soon Bingham realizes that he needs a real connection, a human relationship that goes beyond placing a drink order with the flight attendant.

You need your anticipation to hold you over, too, so I won’t ruin the surprise and spoil the ending. If it’s anything like the book, this movie will be killer, especially as airports hustle and bustle with travelers trying to get home. Check out “Up in the Air,” hitting theaters Friday.