Friday, 22 January 2010

Up in the Air

What happens when the downsizer gets downsized? That's the neat (and particularly apposite) conceit of Jason Reitman's new comedy Up in the Air, clad in the same air of cynical smarts and genuine heart that made his Juno such a huge success.

Having George Clooney in the hot-seat doesn't hurt either; truly, there's no other star better at effortlessly conveying comedy and drama through a debonair, rakish exterior. He's a perfect fit for the character of Ryan Bingham, a man who jets around the USA firing the people the companies don't have the guts to fire themselves. Ryan lives life out of a wheely-case, is most relaxed by the sound of 'turn off your seatbelt' and resists any ties, diverting his philosophy occasionally in smug self-help seminars. His goal in life is to reach 10 million air-miles.

Of course it's Clooney playing himself (that's why he's so enjoyable with it) - but he's also able to dig to the pathos of the material when his company grounds him in favour of computer-based sackings, pioneered by perky newcomer, Natalie (Twilight's Anna Kendrick). Bingham is infuriated when his boss (Jason Bateman) suggests he show Natalie the old ways of face-to-face dismissal, before the digital age takes over.

It's a particularly delicious and ironic set-up, allowing one to mock and yet love these condescending types who exist to ruin the lives of others. The film's release in the current climate couldn't sting harder but Reitman doesn't dictate, instead digging a buddy picture, a romantic tale (between Clooney and Vera Farmiga's sassy frequent flyer) and a moving story of a man who's wasted his life, out of the events taking Bingham from one airport to the next.

Necessitated by the screenplay, there is a mechanical feel and the second half loses the sharp edge in favour of warming the cockles. But it's in Clooney's handsome, yet pained, visage, that seals it as an adult comedy of the first order, a bittersweet reminder that we can always stand to lose too much.

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