UNEMPLOYMENT is no laughing matter . . . although Up In The Air begs to differ. Directed by Jason Reitman, of Juno fame, this portrait of a loveless man, who earns his living flying around America and making total strangers redundant, hardly sounds like cause for merriment.
In the current economic climate, any comedy that directly reminds us of the precariousness of our daily lives is challenging, to say the least.
However, Reitman’s screenplay, co-written by Sheldon Turner and adapted from Walter Kirn’s novel, elegantly navigates a path between the bleak and the wryly amusing, helped in no small part by a charming lead performance from George Clooney.
Ryan Bingham (Clooney) spends more than 300 days a year firing employees he has never met before because their bosses are too chicken to do the dirty deed. He has to weather the tears and tantrums, the pleas and the occasional suicide threat.
As a result of his demanding work, Ryan has no time for personal commitments.
He doesn’t have a girlfriend and has begrudgingly agreed to a request from sister Julie (Lynskey) and her fiancé Jim (McBride) to take photographs with a cardboard standee of the happy couple in various far-flung locations.
Ironically, Ryan is threatened with redundancy when efficiency expert Natalie (Kendrick) puts forward a plan to their boss Craig (Bateman) that agents should conduct terminations via video conferencing.
“Before you revolutionise my business, you had better know my business,” growls Ryan, dragging Natalie along to real-life consultations, where she witnesses the emotional devastation first-hand.
Meanwhile, the usually cool Mr Bingham falls under the spell of fellow jetsetter Alex (Farmiga).
Up In The Air should secure Clooney another Oscar nomination as Best Actor, if not the actual statuette, for his mesmerising portrayal of a corporate middleman, who loathes the prospect of standing still and is now almost numb to the anguish he wreaks.
Kendrick is a delightful counterpoint as the Little Miss Goody Two Shoes, who tows the company line until Ryan and Alex ply her with drink at a corporate shindig and she finally lets loose, tactlessly telling the businesswoman, “You’re so pretty. You’re exactly what I want to look like in 15 years!”
Her relationship with Clooney’s debonair mentor is the film’s heart and soul.
The final act at Julie and Jim’s nuptials feels contrived, but you can’t begrudge the characters a little happiness before the end credits roll.