Three out of Five Stars
Rated R/118 min.
There was a time when commercial flights had piano bars, going through airport security took only a moment and people actually got dressed up to go on a plane, as opposed to getting undressed. That once optimistic view of airline travel is shared by director Jason Reitman and Ryan Bingham, the frequent flier played by George Clooney, whose journey on and off the ground is the centerpiece of this surprisingly meaningful comedy.
Bingham makes his living firing people, going from one crumbling company to another to “let go” of whomever the current boss is too timid to fire himself. Bingham relishes the power and control he has over his life. He has mastered a system—catching a plane, firing scores of people he’ll never see again, checking into an upscale hotel and having encounters with anonymous women—and has no responsibilities or priorities aside from himself and his job. When a young, visibly insecure but brilliant up-and-comer (Anna Kendrick of the Twilight films) arrives and adds a technical upgrade to Bingham’s system, his “skill” starts to look obsolete and he’s forced to prove himself to his boss (Jason Bateman).
This is Reitman’s third film after Thank You For Smoking and Juno and his best yet, a thoughtful look at America right now, in all its technological bleakness. Like some of the best films by Billy Wilder, Reitman mines humor from the painful headlines and his protagonist is always pushing against the flow of societal consensus.
On the other hand, like Reitman’s prior films, which were interesting but overrated, this completes a trilogy about whiny, self-absorbed Caucasians. Woody Allen can get away with making film after film about neurotic white people trying to fall and stay in love, but Reitman’s characters, as likeable as they are, are into themselves to such an absurd degree, it’s easy to see why some are put off by his films. Years from now, we’ll look back on his movies, recognize ourselves and say, “ugh, I remember that.”
Clooney is perfectly cast and in great form, as is a scary-good Jason Bateman, who is making a nice career out of accepting supporting roles and proceeding to steal every scene he’s in. Kendrick, Vera Fermiga and J.K. Simmons (a knockout in a single scene) are excellent as well.
This is one of the most over-praised films of the year—with many calling it a lock for a Best Picture nomination—but if you can lower your expectations and see that this is a solid character comedy and not The Most Important Film Of Its Time, you’ll find it a reliably entertaining, if somewhat turbulent ride. Barry Wurst II, MauiTime