Creativity emerges from chaos, and vice versa, unless yo're watching a network or cable news show. Then you might conclude insipidity arises from turmoil.
Anyway, the recent state of the world might explain why so many fine films are being released in this battle-weary time of Obam's broken promises, Pali's growing cult, continued foreclosures, health-care absurdities, the inability to resolve the situation in Afghanistan, continued homophobia, a Kardashian wedding, and White House gate-crashing. Possibly, in search of an artistic foothold to weather the moment, several directors of note are tackling the Romantic Comedy genre, and the results are nothing less than superlative.
Why romantic comedies? Two main reasons: (1) As we all know or at least once hoped, love conquers all misery before it creates its own. (2) Laugh and the whole world chuckles with you.
Prime examples are Sam Mendes's blissfully engaging love tale Away We Go, which opened earlier this year. Next month, Miguel Arteta's delightfully zany teen-in-love masterwork, Youth in Revolt, will be released. And right now we can celebrate Jason Reiteman's letter-perfect Up in the Air, clearly one of the more adult, incisively witty movies of this year, and possibly this decade.
Placing the feature's unbridled humor aside for a second, Up in the Air is about diminishing humanity in a corporate world where the need for higher stock profits go hand in hand with downsizing. Where employee loyalty is repaid with unemployment and three months of severance pay. Where face-to-face contact is seen as inefficient when compared to streamlined online conferences. Where hypocrisy is a religion.
The story focuses on one of capitalism's most cold-hearted and stalwart defenders, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a corporate downsizer who goes from city to city laying off employees whose bosses are too cowardly to do the job themselves. Confronted with tears, curses, and silent screams of agony, Ryan remains unfazed. He feels he's doing a job that has to be done and he's doing it well as he consciously spouts uplifting falsehoods.
Outside of firing folks with style, Bingham's only happiness is racking up frequent flyer miles and remaining unattached to any living soul. His life fits into his tiny roll-on luggage, and that's the way it should be.
"Imagine waking up tomorrow with nothing," he proposes at one of his inspirational speaking engagements. "It's exhilarating, isn't it?"
Content in his "cocoon of self-banishment," one day at a bar, Bingham meets Alex Goran (Vera Famiga), his female counterpart: "Think of me as yourself, only with a vagina." A heated affair begins, and Ryan starts looking forward to his newly established cross-country couplings. Life could go on like this for centuries if Bingham had his say. But he doesn't . . . to his surprise.
One day Bingham's boss (Jason Bateman), who's in a good mood because he had his "first crap in two weeks," decides to revamp his business. No more traveling. Why flit from city to city to discharge luckless laborers? Let's fire the folks over the Internet. Oh, no! Will Bingham be stuck in an office until he hits 65 unless he gets terminated himself? Before being tied down to his desk, our hero's sent on one last trek to train Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a young professional out to destroy his world as he relishes it. Trying his best to turn Keener into a younger version of himself, Bingham starts sensing cracks in his long-held philosophy that less is more. Maybe more is more.
With a bravura screenplay and pitch-perfect direction by Jason Reitman, who previously endowed us with Thank You for Smoking and Juno, Up in the Air is flawless entertainment. As for George Clooney, this is another Oscar-worthy turn. Only he could make Bingham into a lovable cad you can't get enough of. And the rest of the cast? From Faminga and Kendrick to the folks with barely a minute of screen time each, you'll forget they're all acting.
But the highest compliment for Up in the Air is that it's not looking back on this era of insanity, ineptitude, greed, and seesawing hope. Instead, this magnificent film has captured, with nonstop laughter and a few tears, our times while they're actually happening. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is featured in Rosa von Praunheim's forthcoming documentary New York Memories. In the spring, he'll be teaching "The Image of the Jew in Post-World War II European Cinema" and "Gay and Lesbian Literature" at The City College of New York. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi).