Be careful when you reach for the stars
PEOPLE react to being fired in different ways. Some threaten suicide or wreak revenge on their erstwhile colleagues. Others use it as a prompt to follow their dreams. One woman who had been sacked in the wrong said that preparing her unfair dismissal case would be ‘a full-time job for the next while’, only for a rather slow-on-the-uptake friend to exclaim: “Oh, you’ve got a full-time job already, that’s great!”
A man played by Zach Galifianakis (from ‘The Hangover’), one of the first people to be told he’s been let go in ‘Up In The Air’, has one question for the individual sitting opposite him. “Who the f*** are you?” he spits. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) isn’t overly surprised to be asked, given that he’s not the man’s employer and, in fact, they’ve never met before. Ryan’s job is to fire people on behalf of bosses who don’t have the guts to sack their own employees. Nice work if you can get it.
‘Up in the Air’, which has been tipped for great things at the Oscars, is directed by Jason Reitman (the man behind ‘Juno’ and ‘Thank You For Smoking’), who also co-wrote the screenplay. At its heart is a fine performance from Clooney, whose character criss-crosses America firing people as sensitively as possible. He aims to become the seventh person in history to clock up ten million frequent flyer miles, and he also has a sideline as a motivational speaker advising people not to be weighed down by love or possessions.
Ryan loves being on the road – the worst days of his life are the handful he has to spend in his soulless Omaha apartment. He may be the last person on earth who enjoys air travel, and has learned through years of experience to queue behind Asians rather than old people and Muslims – “I’m like my mother, I stereotype,” he explains. “It’s faster.”
This rootless existence is threatened when his young colleague Natalie (Anna Keener) comes up with a method to cut down on company costs, which is, effectively, firing people via video-link. A horrified Ryan ends up showing her the ropes, but is left unconvinced by her traditional outlook on love, saying he doesn’t have heartfelt moments of connection.
Ryan meets Alex (Vera Farmiga, in terrific form), a woman who, like him, is ‘turned on by elite status’. They’re both happy, at least initially, to keep their relationship casual – she describes herself as ‘the woman you don’t have to worry about’ and spells it out for Ryan: “Think of me as yourself, only with a vagina.”
The dialogue is witty, with some killer one-liners; the performances are excellent; and the tone never gets preachy. Sure, there’s character development, but things don’t neatly resolve themselves in the way one expects in the movie theatre. And that, lest there be any doubt, is a good thing.
‘Up in the Air’ is difficult to categorise. It’s very topical, having been described as the first recession movie of recent times, but there are bits of satire, drama, comedy and romance throw in. It’s clever and got regular laughs – except from one large group who, having done their best to ruin the screening for everyone else, mercifully left early.
I’m not sure it’s quite as brilliant as everyone keeps saying, but it is well worth seeing, and I was sufficiently impressed that I plan to have gone for a second viewing by the time you read this. After working hours, obviously – I don’t want to get fired, even by George Clooney.