Dir Jason Reitman US (15+)
Nominated for six Oscars and five Golden Globes, Up in the Air was one of the most celebrated films of 2009. We can only guess this is because the story skims the most timely, close-to-the-bone of topics – redundancy. Indeed, the touching of the untouchable seems to have created an eerie, worldwide phenomenon – a collective numbing to the fact that this is an exceedingly uninventive and painfully conventional movie.
Reitman’s previous efforts have followed a fairly rigid formula – pick an ‘edgy’ topic, inject a little humour, imbue your characters with distractingly affected dialogue and watch the award nominations roll in. The first worked in a wry sort of way (Thank You For Smoking); the other’s treatment of teen pregnancy was too flippant to feel comfortable (Juno). This latest, in which George Clooney plays a guy who flies around the country firing people for a living, can’t even be accused of dealing unconvincingly with its particular zeitgeist, because it doesn’t deal with it at all. The intricacies of sending people into the unknown without a livelihood are brushed aside – that’s a bit messy – so instead we get a tidy story wherein Clooney’s corporate lone gun learns the importance of love and family.
Now, we don’t wish to be heartless – love and family are good. But when the man who exalted in life on the road with strangers suddenly starts throwing himself into his sister’s wedding and – worse – breaks into his old school to show his would-be girlfriend around, we feel patronised. After all that convoluted dialogue (sample: ‘I’m a parenthesis’), after all those knowing references to the recession and reliance on electronic communication, what’s the message? ‘Life’s better with company.’ And it’s not nice to fire people. Next time Mr Reitman, if you’re going to make a film with such an elevated sense of its own cleverness, try telling us something we don’t know.