Up In The Air ~ (USA, 2009) ~ In Theaters

I’m not sure if George Clooney is just a great actor, or if he merely has a deft touch when selecting his roles. I suspect it’s a bit of the former and a whole lot of the latter. Most of the roles he’s cast into seem to fit him like a glove. His frequent-flyer hatchet-man Ryan Bingham is one of those roles that is classic Clooney: smooth, self-assured, with a sense of humor about himself. Fits him like a comfortable glove.

It’s Bingham’s job to inform those being “downsized” that their services   will no longer be required. He’s smooth as silk and unflappable in the face of righteous anger, tears and threats of suicide. He does the job of those, as he puts it, who “don’t have the balls” to do it themselves. And business these days is booming. Bingham sits at a desk across from the nervous workers and delivers the news, and presents their “options”. The company he works for is based in Omaha, but Bingham spends well over 300 days of the year on the road – or should we say ‘up in the air’. That’s until he’s called in to the office for a company wide gathering. Change is in the works. A hot shot ivy league technology whiz has a program (and is writing the scrips) to allow the dirty deed to be done, not face-to-face but by video-teleconferencing. Natalie Keener’s (Anna Kendrick) program is a cost cutting measure that will (and this is only hinted at) probably lead to downsizing within the firm. Kendrick is fresh, a go-getter, but somewhat lacking in the personal touch department. Ironic that Bingham seems to have a better fix on the feelings of those whose lives are being torn apart than the psychology major ivy-leaguer.

Bingham has no life outside of work, and no personal relationships either. These are limited to one-night stands with other road warriors, like Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga). They hit it off so well that Bingham considers actually changing his ways. Unfortunately, Alex does have another life. She’s compartmentalized her two separate existences. He has only one. No separation necessary.

This is a fun and serious movie. There’s a real chemistry between Clooney and Farmiga, with some terrific double-entendre dialogue and dry-cynical wit. The movie itself though, doesn’t make light of the plight of these laid off-workers. There’s no hint of ‘the world owes me a living’, only the heartfelt pleas that they’ve given their whole lives to these companies. Companies ask those of us who work for them to drink the Kool-Aid. Most of us do, readily enough. But that kind of loyalty and hard work, dedication and company esprit is nothing next to the ‘bottom line’. Those about to be laid off workers up there on the screen telling their stories, are real by the way. Which is a testament to the shape we’re in.

It’s so nice to see a film that proves it’s possible to be intelligent and playful at the same time. Who says we can’t have it both ways? My company is in the midst of downsizing (the latest edition is called “force reduction”). There are x number of employees and x number of boxes being organized along org chart lines. There are more people than there will be “boxes”, of course. Yes, they actually speak of boxes. Think of musical chairs. When the music stops, you’re either in a box…or you’re not. I’d say this movie is a must see for HR types and force reducers alike. But who am I kidding? Speaking of balls, not a one of ’em would likely take a peak at this one.

♦♦♦♦½

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