22 December 2009

At the movies: Up in the Air.

It's a difficult endeavor, trying to find humanity in someone whose job it is to mass-fire a company's workforce. It isn't their fault per se; if anything, they indict the spineless higher-ups who seek outside help to keep their own hands from getting dirty.

But these people exist, and Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is one of the best. A gifted salesman (who here sells the possibility of freedom rather than the despair of unemployment), Bingham spends most of his life on planes, in hotels, engaging with concierges, the future unemployed, and always the disembodied image and voice of whoever is the next level up. Imagine a luxury first-person shooter American version of Demonlover, and you’d not be too far off.

So his company, under the encouragement of up-and-comer Natalie (Anna Kendrick, better known as Bella's best friend from the Twilight movies), decides to start moving into the field of termination by videoconferencing. The lone wolf operative Ryan's come to represent nears obsolescence, and he finds himself having to show the new kid the ropes, knowing he is sealing his own end the whole time. But family drama has a way of intruding, and Mister Happy-On-His-Own finds himself trying to find something meaningful, while at the same time helping his sister get married and possibly building something with his occasional sex buddy (Vera Farmiga, with Meg Foster eyes and hair that speaks volumes as to ideology).

Already surfing in on a giant wave of awards and hype, Up in the Air is the kind of movie that could get by just on being well-made and entertaining; but it also manages to capture the prevailing emotional currents in this country and get at the major sea change in the way people are viewing their jobs and personal stability. Critics’ groups and the blogosphere are already awash with love for the film, and it’s hard to begrudge that- well-crafted films that deal with grownup issues are becoming rarer than unicorns.

Director/cowriter Jason Reitman avoids most of the foolishness that kept his last film Juno so at odds with itself, and in Clooney, he has a game persona to really explore some of the darker sides of the current recession. Add in a guest appearance by Young MC and a two-scene cameo by national treasure Danny McBride, and you've got an accessible, fairly deep film that serves up a few laughs and insights with its look into the state of the American individual. Awards will come in abundance, but it's the quality that matters, and certainly endures.

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