South Park got it right: George Clooney loves the smell of his own farts. The whole audience could be holding their noses, and he’d go right on smirking. So smug and talentless is he that he even manages to be vomitatious in a role that’s tailor-made for him. In Up in the Air, director Jason Reitman features this bronzed hunk of I’m-better-than-you manflesh in equally shallow soap-opera-level claptrap about a smarmy smartass named Ryan Bingham who fires corporate employees for a living. As this above-it-all portrait of a middle-aged hatchetman skirts over the surface of things to its glib conclusion, we’re supposed to see that platonic love for a woman can penetrate even this lizard’s scales. But like the victims of downsizing whose eyes meet Clooney’s unctuous grin on the other end of the table, I’m not about to swallow any of his manufactured live-for-the-future garbage. I, too, felt torn between wanting to rip Bingham a new asshole and crying so hard that my lungs would drown in mucus.
The film’s self-conscious infusions of humor into a serious subject impress the current crop of sell-out film critics, of course. In this vacuous age dominated by gloss and self-image, such comic escapism is a way of avoiding confrontation with one’s shortcomings in either thought or action. Poseurdom of this magnitude is nothing new for Reitman, who was also behind the morally bankrupt snarkfest Juno about a teenage twit of a girl who, unable to face the consequences of her sexual looseness culminating in an unwanted pregnancy, spouts an endless stream of wannabe-clever quips. Likewise Up in the Air masks truth in a smokescreen of denial. As Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), the married floozy with whom Bingham think’s he’s made a connection, finally admits to him, “you’re an escape.” Marital vows? They’re outdated in the 21st century. They’ve gone extinct just like ethical business behavior. All that matters to these cardboard-cutout excuses for characters is what their smelly loins want right now.
The third vertex in the film’s thespian triangle of unreality is Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a pucker-mouthed twenty-something whom Bingham takes as his protégé in the art of termination. Despite her supposed ambition to rise to the top of the axing profession, she bawls when her boyfriend dumps her and tries to give her love-apathetic guru advice about marriage. Sorry, sweetie, but your emotions are a fabrication just like the platitudes you tell your “clients.” Go back to your flowcharts and algorithms and do us all a favor.
Films like this pretend to be smart by deliberately saying nothing. What does Bingham really learn about himself through his relationship with Alex? What’s the substance of the connection he feels to either Alex or Natalie? Gee, I don’t know, I guess it’s just all up in the air. You know, like life, man. Reitman hopes that we’ll ponder ourselves into a corner and forget about the graceless script lifelessly rendered by the dimensionless corporate zombies he fashions. Up in the Air jets high above the clouds so that Clooney and Reitman can wave and smile down to earth from their window seats, pleased that the world loves the smell of their shit.
Joe’s Grade: C-