Personalized service goes a long way, especially when the news is bad.
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) has a highly specialized job: he fires people for a living. Working for a firm that takes the perceived responsibility away from management, Ryan is personable enough to deliver the news with a positive spin and flexible enough to change it up when things don’t go as planned. Enter Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a fresh graduate from the school of multimedia who is pitching a remote video firing rather than pay someone like Ryan to fly all over the country. As someone who lives his life out of a suitcase and aspires to reaching a goal of a million air miles traveled, he is left with no choice but to challenge Natalie to come along for a few weeks and see what his job really takes first hand.
In an economy where employers feel their employees should be happy merely being employed, the character of Ryan is like the Grim Reaper of gainful employment. Dealing with people who have families, over-specialized skills, or little chance of finding new work in a phased-out job, it takes a balanced individual to be positive enough to understand but impersonal enough to move on. It’s a part well suited to George Clooney, especially when the secondary plot deals with him meeting his equal of the opposite sex, played by Vera Farmiga.
Up in the Air unfolds by presenting life-long ideas without passing blame. Choices are presented, whether a life is spent seeking elite status and teaching others how to optimize living out of a single suitcase or by sending pictures to relatives for taking photos as if they had traveled to those places themselves. All the while, these are also the people who tell others that their lives are being up heaved, and regardless of who’s fault a terminated employment may be, there are moral responsibilities that must either be embraced or easily cast aside in order to keep living with yourself. If you can’t find a way to handle it, then it may be best not to do it all.
After Clooney’s snarky turn in the dismal The Men Who Stare at Goats, he’s pitch perfect here as a man forced to see a reflection of himself while reconciling the notion of how he lives his own life. There’s a lot of things going on here, but all of them inexplicably intertwine together, likely thanks in no small part to the director of both Thank You for Smoking and Juno, Jason Reitman. Life happens, and the best you can hope for is to live it one day at a time and connect to whomever you can, even if it’s the person losing their job sitting right across from you.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)