(director/writer: Jason Reitman; screenwriters: based on the novel by Walter Kirn/Sheldon Turner; cinematographer: Eric Steelberg; editor: Dana E. Glauberman; music: Rolfe Kent; cast: George Clooney (Ryan Bingham), Vera Farmiga (Alex Goran), Anna Kendrick (Natalie Keener), Danny McBride (Jim Miller), Jason Bateman (Craig Gregory), Melanie Lynskey (Julie Bingham), Amy Morton (Kara Bingham), Sam Elliott (Maynard Finch, pilot), J. K. Simmons (Bob), Zach Galifianakis (Steve), Chris Lowell (Kevin); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Ivan Reitman/Jason Reitman/Daniel Dubiecki/Jeffrey Clifford; Paramount Pictures; 2009)

“Timely Hollywood dramedy about the human fallout over job loss during the current hectic economic times.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jason Reitman (“Juno”/”Thank You for Smoking”) smartly helms this timely Hollywood dramedy about the human fallout over job loss during the current hectic economic times. It’s cowritten in a snappy screwball comedy style by Reitman and Sheldon Turner, who adapt it from the 2001 novel by Walter Kirn. It cries out for old-fashioned values in the business world and in the family scene, and to give the people what they want it serves up a mild comeuppance for those exploiting the misfortunes of others for their own gain during a financial crisis. It’s filmed in the same manner as the popular classic star vehicle films of the 1930s, like the ones that starred Clark Gable. In this one, George Clooney, acting and looking like Cary Grant, carries the load as the film’s cheery dip shit point man with matinee idol good looks. His pointed characterization allows this flawed but surprisingly effective satirical rom-com to be a painless delight without dipping further into the film’s bleak POV that the American Dream in contemporary times is being crapped over by people just like him.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a glib bachelor corporate hatchet man based in Omaha, who lovingly spends 322 days a year on the road. He’s the professional hired gun outsider who arrives in town to fire those who are victims of downsizing in person, because their bosses feel uncomfortable with that unpleasant task. He tries to downplay their loss by telling them they can now look forward to following their dreams in the future, deflects the slurs some fling back at him with smiles, leaves them a company informational packet about their severance pay and leaves their life forever after giving them the bad news and hinting at further contacts.

The charmer Ryan’s goals are to have no attachments, live a selfish hedonistic life and reach ten million frequent flyer miles–something only 6 others have achieved.

On the road Ryan meets his attractive soul mate and fellow frequent flyer executive Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), who says “she’s Ryan, but with a vagina.” The two status conscious executives, both confidant, cool and self-reliant, begin a casual relationship, where they have sex on mutual road stops with no strings attached.

To help the middle-aged Ryan get redemption from his empty, unexamined life, there are two subplots that force him to make more real relationships. In the workplace, the recent 23-year-old Cornell grad Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), who despite her youth and being a novice in the business world, is the rigid monster dynamo efficiency expert who talks the contemptible boss (Jason Bateman) into accepting her program that uses video-conferencing techniques to fire online and therefore saves the company any travel expenses. So Natalie can get a feel of what it’s like doing the task in person and be talked out of it as being too impersonal, she goes with Ryan, threatened with loss of lifestyle, on one last firing tour. The catch is that she arouses his repressed paternal instincts and he becomes very protective. The other significant people in Ryan’s life are his sisters: the recently separated Kara (Amy Morton), who wants Ryan to be at his kid sister Julie’s (Melanie Lynskey) upcoming wedding in his northern Wisconsin hometown and to help her if needed. Ryan’s relationship with these women reverses his moonlighting lecture talking points as a corporate motivational speaker about avoiding commitment and that “Living is moving,” which helps him grow-up, become more reflective, go home again and smell the coffee before it’s too late.

But even if the story proves to be largely sentimental drivel, the story is easy to digest because it’s a hoot watching such reviled characters like Clooney and Farmiga put up brave fronts to act so glamorously human when their actions are so hurtful to others. It’s something only Hollywood stars of note can pull off so effortlessly. How Reitman made his antihero unethical leads seem likable despite all the blood they had on their hands, impressed me more than how the story’s moral compass got pointed in the right direction in the third act. It doesn’t have much to say that means much about dealing with job loss, but works fine as solid entertainment and should remind one of how they used to make empty but pleasing Hollywood films back in the days of the studio system.

Up in the Air

REVIEWED ON 12/22/2009 GRADE: B+