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Jason Reitman's bitterly funny Up in the Air, adapted from the novel by Walter Kirn, rests on the shoulders of George Clooney, who lends his considerable charisma to the charming but loathsome "termination facilitator" Ryan Bingham, who shatters lives with an air of practiced camaraderie then hops the next plane out of town.
Bingham is the organization man par excellence, a sleek, rootless corporate fast-gun whose life is built on freedom from excess baggage. Bingham loves the anonymity of airport hotels and the promise of gates and jetways, the restless movement and the comfort of crowds. All the material things he needs fit into one rolling suitcase; his emotional ties... well, he's pared them all away: His parents are dead, he's never been married or had children, politely ignores his sisters and their families and keeps his love life strictly utilitarian. His ideal woman is fellow traveler Alex "Think of Me as You with a Vagina" Goran (Farmiga), whose idea of commitment is scheduling the next smoking-hot rendezvous in an anonymous airport hotel. Bingham's holy grail is the 10 million frequent-flyer miles that will elevate him to super-deluxe, elite passenger status.
When Bingham isn't firing shell-shocked workers with polished platitudes — "Everyone who's ever changed the world or founded an empire has sat where you're sitting," he purrs, deflecting fears of penury and humiliation with the assurance that the one-size-fits-all severance packet contains all the information the newly unemployed need to make lemonade from lemons — he?s polishing the motivational shtick he hopes will make him rich and famous. "How much does your life weigh," his rap begins, as he hefts a metaphorically freighted backpack. Friends, family, homes and keepsakes, Bingham says, are the deadwood that keep us from achieving our full potential. Empty the backpack of your life and the possibilities are endless.
Bingham's rude awakening comes in the form of fresh-faced go-getter Natalie Keener (Kendrick), who's convinced his boss (Bateman) that the future of firing is teleconferencing. Goodbye travel expenses, per diems and hotel bills; Bingham and his fellow high-flying hatchet men can park their suitcases and work out of the home office in Denver. Of course, for all her pluck and book smarts, Keener lacks field experience — she's never sat across a table from someone whose years of acquired experience, loyalty and hard work have just evaporated in te face of restructuring, right-sizing or outsourcing. Which is why Bingham is assigned to spend his last footloose and fancy-free days teaching her the ropes.
Reitman's gift is that he can turn bitter, unpalatable material into mainstream movies fodder without stripping away the bite; Thank You For Smoking (2005) and Juno (2007) could be tougher, but they could also be feel-good Hollywood pablum or indie darlings that play a handful of markets and vanish into the home-entertainment morass. Up in the Air is hugely entertaining: Clooney, Farmiga and Kendrick, a relative newcomer whose precocious resume includes a Tony Award nomination at age 12, have the kind of sparkling chemistry that makes narrative twists go down like caviar chased with perfectly dry champagne.
But there's an underlying weight, and it's more than fortuitous timing — if you can use the word "fortuitous" in connection with Up in the Air's opening in the middle of a major economic meltdown that's left almost 25,000,000 Americans un- or under-employed. Reitman's decision to cast real, recently unemployed people as a Greek chorus gives the film a poignant weight. Their improvised scenes seethe with emotionally stunning shock, fear, despair and anger that cuts through reality-TV induced cynicism and cuts right to the bone.
For more by Maitland McDonagh: MissFlickChick.com
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