04 December 2009

Up in the Air

Victor and I had a free pass to see this movie last night; the latest work of Jason Reitman, who also made Juno and Thank You for Smoking. Like those movies, this one dips into the zeitgeist: our increasingly disconnected lives, the irony of "loyalty rewards" in an age where traditional kinds of loyalty are typically rewarded by a literal or figurative pink slip.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, an avatar and proponent of the rootless lifestyle--he works for a firm that companies hire to carry out layoffs and travels around the country firing people. He is most comfortable when he's on the go, and he delivers termination news as if he's doing the employee a favor: offering the freedom to do whatever he/she really wants to do. Clooney even delivers inspirational talks on the subject--he asks his audiences to imagine carrying around everything important to them in a backpack and then tells them to burn the backpack.

While the movie is full of acutely observed, wry and funny moments about life on the go and the crappy way we treat each other, of course things come to a head for Ryan (otherwise, no movie). He encounters a woman with almost as many frequent flyer cards as he has; potentially a soulmate? Shortly thereafter, a scrappy young MBA in the home office argues that the firing process can be handled virtually, via teleconference--no need for Ryan and his colleagues to be jetting all around the country, blowing expense accounts. After Ryan demonstrates, in front of the boss, just how little she knows about firing people, the boss insists he show her the ropes, and they set off together on a whirlwind firing tour.

In the face of the innocent conventionality of his young colleague, the apparent perfection of his occasional lover, the likely termination of his current career once layoffs by teleconference take hold, and the impending marriage of one of his sisters, can Ryan continue to skate across the surface of his life, or will the lightness of his life become unbearable?

Watch this thoroughly enjoyable, smart, frequently laugh-out-loud funny, occasionally poignant and even sad movie to find out. Particularly recommended for frequent flyers.

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