Time started to be on my side yesterday afternoon. We finished up all of our massive holiday celebrations, paused for a moment together to enjoy our anniversary, and then went our separate ways. I had a couple of things to do at work, and my RRHB went off to do some recording with a friend, which meant I had a free afternoon. What! How could that happen? By the time I got home last night, I hadn't just hit the proverbial wall, I had ran headlong into it with all the power of an 18-wheeler. However, before that and just after managing to jump in the pool for a bit of swimming, I treated myself to Up in the Air.
George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a high flying (literally) corporate consultant called in to "manage" the termination of large groups of people during restructuring or firms going out of business. Like any industry, even one based on the massive economic problems ransacking the United States, Bingham comes face to face with change. In his instance, the rolling bag, hotel-living lifestyle that goes along with being on the road 330 days of the year comes to a crashing halt the moment a young inky pup upstart presents the idea that the company needs to go "Glocal." They need to take their "global" and make it "local."
They're bringing termination in-house and doing it via Skype. Bingham's essentially grounded. But before they clip his wings, he argues that Natalie Keener (no irony in her name there, yawn [played by Anna Kendricks]), should come with him to see how impossible virtual firings truly are -- real human beings in awful situations faced with a computer screen telling them their life is effectively stopped short seems painfully inhumane to me. And having been through it myself, I tend to agree. If I had walked into the evil corpration and found myself face to face with a talking head Skyped in version of HR, I probably would have lost it even more so than I did during the actual termination interview.
Of course, conclusions are made, lives are changed -- because the purpose of the film is to find Ryan Bingham at the crossroads, but like (500) Days of Summer, (which might just be one of my favourite movies of the year) the results aren't what you'd normally expect, and that's where you find the true magic in the movie. That's the thing about indie movies. They take cliched moments, essential rom-com stuff, and turn them slightly in another direction, making them seem more real in a way that, say, The Ugly Truth, just can't.
And, there are lots of these moments in Up in the Air: the meet cute (Bingham and his love interest, fellow high flyer Alex [played to perfection by Vera Farmiga], meet in an airport bar and bond over Air Miles, bonus points and hotel room service); the wedding shinanigans (Bingham's sister's nuptuials); the not-so honest confessions of "real lives" and "real intentions" (Ryan + Alex may or may not have a happy ending); and the aforementions upstart inky pup gets some worldly experience that changes her course (if we've all seen In Good Company we know how this turns out).
But I was surprised by a lot of the film too, especially by the cameos, the name actors who drop in for moments when you least expect them, and all of the quasi-documentary-like sections of the film when Ryan and Natalie are at work busy firing people. This film couldn't have been made even five years ago. It wouldn't have had the same resonance in terms of the economic situation. It's real life that makes this movie poignant, and not the other way around, which isn't normally the way that movies work on an emotional level.
There's something unsustaining about the lives we've created. Maybe this is the message from the film. That all of the modern advances that have brought us to the brink of collapse can do as Ryan suggests, send a message to take you in another direction. That having a goal that's tangible on a human rather than a socio-economic level isn't necessarily a weakness but a sign of a different kind of strength. There's poetry in that, I think. Also, I'm thinking that it's probably never a good idea for me to go see these kinds of movies by myself. It's always good to have company to stop the philosophical stuff from just roaming around in my head until I feel a little batty.
Lastly, just like Michael Clayton, another film I absolutely loved, George Clooney proves time and time again that he can play one hell of a modern leading man. Oh, and on the way home, I managed to sit in a subway car littered with ads for Ryerson University's continuing ed programs. Shaky photo attached. Interesting coincidence, I'd say.