Dir. Jason Reitman. USA. 2009.

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Reitman's follow up to the phenomenal triumph with JUNO he moves on to another end of the age spectrum going from youth to middle age and from high school to corporate America, taking on the form of Ryan Bingham a job relocator, a man who goes from city to city firing on behalf of people who do not have enough cajones to do so. 
Bingham has no attachments is single and lives on his own, he is married to his work which is the only thing he loves whilst working this Bingham collects up air miles with the ambition to collect the mythical figure of 10million air miles and inclusion into an exclusive club.

Now on the surface, Bingham may seem like a creep who is unloving and does not mind implanting his carbon foot on the earth, but the golden ticket is helped by the fact that Bingham is played by George Clooney, who brings his charm to the role in abundance. Its a role that suits him as much as the suit he is constantly working; good looking, good dialogue and that smile.
Reitman again shows his growing maturity with adult material, though he is a child of consumer age; he cannot deny it with the product placement of American Airlines, Hertz and Coca-Cola - but there are special touches Reitman has brought to the adaptation of Walter Kirn's novel (Ryan's suitcase, his apartment with no clothes on the rack, a fridge that is a mini-bar replacement). This is also a postcard of America; he takes the familiarity of America and makes it all look the same but for climate changes, Miami is hot, the midwest is cold and his headquarters are bleak.  It is important you do not pity Ryan, you understand it's a lifestyle choice (it does not question carbon footprint which is short sighted and inviting criticism), but the film tellingly moves between social commentary and satire to a buddy movie to a critique of the disillusionment of dreams and breakdown of the American male psyche.
The film has a three act structure:
BUILD-UP - the Bond impression, meeting Alex (Vera Farmiga), his first seminar
GROUNDED - meet Natalie (Anna Kendrick), take her on the road, Alex meets Natalie
LIFTED - Ryan's sisters wedding, Alex's secret and Natalie leaves.
It also becomes a romantic comedy due to the influx of Alex (Farmiga - sultry and intelligent, a rare role in Hollywood), who says to Ryan, 'Think of me as you, but with a vagina'. Alex is very much like Ryan, acting a role in the workplace but give Ryan usually so cold to emotional contact a chance at romance for once, it helps they are both frequent flyers.  And there is a nice touch once Natalie jumps on board, Natalie is much younger a post-graduate who wants to ground Ryan and his colleagues by firing people over the internet (a set up that leads to the film's best joke at Natalie's expense) and hence leads Ryan to taking Natalie on the road to show her the ropes and how they are a point of immediate contact to those they fire.  Ryan and Alex in a way become surrogate parents to Natalie, and this emboldening trust between Ryan and Natalie is made paramount when Ryan first hears of Natalie's resignation - he says nothing but Reitman shows a shot of Natalie on a conveyor belt moving away from us (the last time Ryan saw her), although a trick of European cinema it says so much of the relationship between mentor and protege.
The supporting cast is immense; Jason Bateman as Ryan's boss is quirky as ever, J.K. Simmons has the best of the people let go (the story goes Reitman employed real life out of work people to get that disconsolation spot on), the scene between Clooney and Simmons is amazing, it goes from disgust to contentment to respect in five minutes as Clooney tells him the worst news in the world but also gives him a second chance at employment just by reading his resume.
However, Anna Kendrick, in the role of Natalie, is a brilliant addition. She is younger from a different social class structure, different education and of course female, through her being his 'buddy' on this road trip we get to learn more about the closed box that is Bingham - his thoughts on love, marriage, his future.  But we do not become ignorant of her either, we learn a lot more about her than anticipated and believe that she would be a better partner for Ryan than Alex, the androgynous nature of Alex means that too much similarity will be bad for Bingham.
'Relationships carrry the heaviest weight' says Ryan who reignites some and learns from new ones, he also says 'loyalty is never cheap' and he learns the hard way.  The film can be somewhat signposted in its narrative thrust yet it is continually refreshing at times uproaringly funny and yet sensitive and insightful at an odd age America finds itself in - for once unsure about itself, and how much the lack of employment means to the identity of the individual.  
It wont leave you up in the air, instead you'll find yourself grounded and appreciative of a telling document of corporate America, stardom and male-female relationships.

Jamie Garwood

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