The Carnivore previews: George Clooney in Up In The Air
The latest in a glut of George Clooney releases, Up in The Air sees this latter day matinée idol masquerading as Jason Bingham, a smooth talking, good looking commitment-phobe. As you can imagine, it’s a stretch: a heroic feat of dramatic endeavour. George Clooney is so slick it could almost be a documentary.
Bingham does the dirty work of big business: he’s a corporate downsizing expert who flies back and forth across the US firing people. His shtick is charm, the recently made redundant hardly ever resort to legal contest. Bingham dispenses them of their responsibilities while fleeing private ones :avoiding relationships, undue contact with his family and trips to Ikea. His life is suddenly grounded when his company, advised by an upstart graduate (Anna Kendrick), considers using video conferencing to “let people go”. Firing is a dirty word.
And so starts a trip across the US with the ambitiously naïve Cornell grad where – after the usual personal turbulence – they learn to understand and appreciate each other. After a chance chat-up, Clooney – cough- Bingham starts to fall for an equally voracious traveller played by the excellent, if trout-pouted, Vera Farmigia (The Departed and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas). Queue the inevitable self-doubt, questioning of life choices, blossoming of love and reconnect with the family.
So far, Up in the Air sounds like a rom-com version of Kevin Spacey’s American Airlines advert, perhaps with a few more sharp lines, tears and a few swoons from the audience. It delivered – then halfway through suddenly got upgraded. Director Jason Reitman has followed the same successful formula as Thank You For Smoking and Juno: pitterpatter banter, sympathetic characters and subtle social commentary. But this is a more mature offering: glib PR gabble remains unglamourised and there’s no precociously articulate teen who gets both the boy and the baby. Clooney is understated, his playing to type crumbles as smarminess withers to painful vulnerability. He’s no longer the most charming man in the world but one wrestling with the routine existential problem of trying to avoid the banal baggage of real life. It becomes a realistic look at the masculine fantasy of having your cake and eating it. The clichés of a romantic comedy are extended and inverted; like real life, nothing really plays out how you might expect.
Reitman shines in turning even the shortest cameos into three-dimensional characters. He gives the countless victims of economic downturn an individual voice: it’s an elegy to empty offices rather than an easy swipe at fat cats. The personal focus permeates and even Clooney star charisma can’t eclipse supporting characters. They may be as ridiculous and multifaceted as real people yet there’s never a cheap laugh. Up in the Air is slick without being insincere. Like Clooney, Reitman makes what Hollywood does best seem so easy.
Vera Farmiga comes over as the smartest actress in Hollywood right now, so it’s no surprise how deftly she nails the role of a fellow frequent flyer and like-minded lover (“Think of me as you with a vagina”). Anna Kendrick, as Bingham’s voracious new nemesis on the workforce, is a brittle joy. Either or both will be Oscar-nominated, and so will Clooney, who has never been so subtly funny outside a press conference, or understood his own strengths as an actor better. This richly polished and adult entertainment will be unmissable come January.
Directed by Juno’s Jason Reitman, the film, while often very funny, doesn’t bottle out of mining some pretty dark territory either, and it will be interesting to see how it fares when it goes on release early next year, given that its themes might feel a little bit close to home for audience members experiencing similar employment worries.
More reviews to come.