UP, Up, up in the air we go
Jason Reitman is one of those remarkable people that make you wonder how they got to where they did: undoubtedly talented, insightful writer, an ability to combine an arthouse feel with critical acclaim and boxoffice success, all wrapped up in a boy-next-door genuineness at the tender age of 32.
At 32, George Clooney was just about to get famous for playing Dr. Ross on ER. That was, what, 16 years ago? He has gone a long way since then, up, Up, and UP from TV actor to film actor, to director, writer, producer, sexiest man alive, and the Cary Grant of today. This is what people tell me – I stand to be corrected. Regardless, he seems right at home in Reitman’s latest movie – “Up in the Air“, the role fitting him like the fine armani suits that he looks so damn good in. Consciously or not, a lot of little digs at Clooney’s personal lifestyle choices seems to be mirrored in the film: a distaste for marriage and kids, avoidance of commitment, and an ability to charm everyone into agreeing with him, even if in this case it is to accept the fact that you are fired with “minimal legal blowback.”
In “Up in the Air”, Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a “road warrior,” man on the fly, travelling 320 days out of the year. His home is the sky, and everything that common travellers find irritating, such as stale sushi and recycled air, he tells us, comfort him. He travels in style, from first class airport lounges to top car rentals to fine hotels. Armed with an array of swipe cards, he knows the best option for every travelling comfort all over the United States. He can get in and out of an airport faster than you get dropped off. He runs the gauntlet of flying like a sport.
What enables Ryan to engage in so much flying is his job as a Termination Facilitator – that’s right, you heard me. He belongs to a company that helps cowardly corporations “downsize,” sending in impeccably dressed experts to do the dirty work of letting employees go that the boss is too incompetent to do him/herself. Ryan sweeps in, pre-assembled severance package in hand, sits the former employee down and with a calm gaze and perfect smile, tells him/her that this is the beginning of a brighter, more fortuitous future. The current disaster of an economy means that business for Ryan is good, very good.
While on the road, Ryan meets a fellow road warrior, Alex, played by Vera Famiga. She is beautiful, independent, witty, and seems to share the same values as Ryan in both business and bed. They share travel schedules like a post-coital smoke, relishing in the possibility of a next rendezvous in another airport hotel with frequent flier miles.
Meanwhile, Ryan’s cherished life on the road is interrupted by Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a recent university grad who came up with the idea of firing people via video-conference, effectively putting an end to Ryan’s up in the air lifestyle that he has become so accustomed to. Ryan is not happy. We provide a dignified service, he insists. Ryan and Natalie go on the road to test out the theory against practice, and a series of events ensue that prove challenging for both of them, albeit in vastly different ways.
A number of side plotlines add to the story and its depth. No one is exactly what they seem at first glance, and that is what makes the story so interesting. There are actually layers to the people in it – just the way there exist in people in real life. Reitman peels them back carefully, gently, without unnecessary dramatic buildup and foreshadowing. Some of the unveiling is so spontaneous that it is comical, and we laugh along with the characters, not at them.
Reitman often has these little great touches to his films that are interesting in an absurd way, often to do with corporate culture. In “Thank You For Smoking” it was the weekly “merchants of death” gathering between the tobacco, gun, and alcohol industry reps. Here it’s the ultimate elite customer status in American Airline’s Advantage program – the 10 million frequent flier miles level. Only 6 people before Ryan has accomplished it. The achiever will receive a hand-crafted lifetime membership card, his name on the side of a plane, and be allowed entry into an elite club of those who probably spend way too much time in the air to have much to offer in terms of human connection on the ground. This is Ryan’s goal. Perhaps he is comfortable in the air where no one has any reason to approach him aside from offering a service that he has paid for. Perhaps he’s just not so comfortable with his feet on the ground, where non-business human relationships actually have a chance to develop.
Clooney is great in this film. Perhaps one of his best. It’s not such a tortured performance as the one in “Syriana”, but it’s much more nuanced, and believable, and perhaps closer to himself than any other personas he’s taken on before. Some of the dialogue is amazing, especially those that deal with Natalie’s thoughts on marriage and men. If Reitman wrote those lines, he’s finely in touch with the 2o something years old women’s psyche.
The film also pokes fun at the explosion in modern technology and its effect on human connections. Apparently, at a press conference for the film at TIFF, a journalist asked if he has a Facebook page to which Clooney replied: “I would rather have a prostate exam on live television by a guy with very cold hands than have a Facebook page.” Brave answer. Although unable to speak to the topic personally…I can’t imagine that avoidance of a facebook page is worthy of that kind of an alternative? He could just…leave it empty, no?
On a side note, Friday night Beth and I couldn’t get tickets to “the Men Staring At Goats” premiere, and we ended up having drinks at the Four Seasons, not for any particular idea that we will bump into anyone famous but because we felt like dressing up and it was a consolation excuse for not being able to go to the gala, and the lineup was short. Anyway, we were sitting by the window, drinking and having a good time, when some people started gathering outside peeking into the bar. We started joking that maybe Clooney was hiding in a corner somewhere, and then that led to jokes about what we would say to him, and that somehow led to jokes about his name and pronounciation (and might have involved live impersonations). A few minutes later the crowd intensified and flashes started to go off. I wondered aloud to Beth who is really in here, she asked the girl sitting beside us who replied that Clooney just walked BY us a few moments prior towards the back of the room. Beth and I looked at each other for a moment in silence and just bursted out in laughter. I shifted slightly to the right, and just like in a movie, there he was, about 15 meters from me, in the flesh. Along with Damon and Soderbergh.
I was really glad that it was loud in the bar. I’m also really glad that I’ll never know whether George Clooney walked by us the precise moment that we were making jests about his name.
Oh, then, we kept on drinking (the bar was really easy to get to with all the girls at the bottom of the stairs). Didn’t bother him. Staring got kind of boring after 15 minutes….I realized that I can never actually stalk a celebrity – too much effort, which means that I probably will never meet Clooney and get my fanpic with him and put it in a frame with sharpie-drawn hearts all around it and hang it above my bed on the wall (no, I’ve never thought of that before this moment). Woe is moi.