One of the things that makes George Clooney a great movie star is that hes always letting us know just how much fun hes having being George Clooney. (Cant say I blame him. It seems like a great gig.)
Whats interesting about Up in the Air , director Jason Reitmans sturdy, crowd-pleasing adaptation of Walter Kirns novel, is the way it allows Clooney to subtly criticize his popular persona. Its almost like an Eastwood vehicle in how it plays upon the baggage weve brought into the theater regarding its star.
Which is fitting, as baggage is something foremost on the mind of Ryan Bingham, the slick corporate hotshot played so well by Clooney its impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. In whats perhaps the only growth industry during recession-addled times, Bingham works for a freelance consulting corporation that fires people.
On the road almost 300 days a year, he sets up shop in banal conference rooms across the country, breaking terrible news, offering severance packages and taking the heat most bosses are too cowardly to confront. Hes got the routine down cold, gently guiding the downsized through the devastation, nimbly finding glimmers of hope to offer them for their uncertain futures.
Clooneys Bingham moonlights as a motivational speaker, preaching a carry-on philosophy: Relationships, possessions and entanglements are all things weighing down an imaginary backpack youre carrying. Empty it. Nobody gets to check any luggage when travelling with Ryan Bingham. His life is compartmentalized, his apartment spartaneverything streamlined and attachment-free.
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: George Clooney
Running time: 109 minutes
This is all good and well when youre on the road 300 days year, but our heros perfectly ordered existence is knocked into disarray after a meeting with his boss (the effortlessly smarmy Jason Bateman). Anna Kendricks shark-like, up-and-coming scene-stealer has figured out that the company will save millions of dollars in travel and hotel fees annually, if they downsize folks via Skype video-conferencing, instead of in person. This isnt just a terrible idea because it adds a cold and impersonal edge to an already unpleasant encounter. Even worse, it means Ryan Bingham will have to stay home and get a life.
Bad timing, as hes recently met his match in Vera Farmigas Alex, a swaggeringly sexy female version of himself, similarly married to her career and on the road just as much, if not more than Ryan. Their courtship begins with a funny, strangely sexy discussion of rental cars and frequent flyer miles, and before long theyre performing post-coital laptop schedule checks, setting up assignations in anonymous hotel chains and convention centers. Our rascally heros chemistry with Alex has him wondering for the first time if his no-commitment lifestyle is really worth it.
Of course, the key to Up in the Air is watching George Clooney learn to grow up and settle downsomething which will probably never happen in real life. But it provides a certain wish fulfillment fantasy for the audience. Clooney, the bastard, isnt just getting better looking as he ages. Hes also becoming a more skillful actor, learning how to do more with less and deftly underplaying some of the screenplays clutzier elements.
Reitmans Thank You For Smoking and Juno were a couple of the smuggest pictures Ive seen in recent years, but here he wisely dials down the self-satisfaction and acquits himself admirably with the sort of a classy, adult dramedy we havent seen since Cameron Crowe went into hiding after Elizabethtown . Reitmans lone misstep is occasionally cutting to documentary interviews with real people who have recently lost their jobs. These bits dont just undercut the movies Hollywood gloss, they also over-explain the subtext of scenes that work just fine on their own.
Far more effective is Reitmans visual command of interchangeable hotel rooms, airport lobbies and blandly anonymous office parks. Up in the Air s most haunting quality is this vision of a franchised, homogenized America as sterile limboa prison from which we long for Clooneys Bingham to escape.