Release Date: 2009
Director: Jason Reitman
Why I picked this: Oscar noms, and I’ve only seen one Jason Reitman movie
Charming and thoughtful, this is a movie with wonderful performances, funny moments, and certainly some emotional moments. The movie follows Ryan Bingham, whose work involves traveling around the country to essentially fire employees on behalf of other companies. Ryan is also a motivational speaker, using the metaphor of “carrying a backpack” to summarize his advice on how to live life. As a result, Ryan is constantly on the move, rarely back home and usually staying in nice hotel rooms thanks to his premium memberships, and he aims to achieve ten million frequent flyer miles on American Airlines. Early in the movie, Ryan encounters another frequent flyer named Alex, played by Vera Farmiga; they quickly begin a casual relationship and meet up whenever their travel paths intersect. Ryan and Alex are similar characters in many respects, and they pick up on these similarities, leading to very smooth conversations; they come across as almost the same person. Luckily, Clooney and Farmiga have much on-screen chemistry, and they light up the screen whenever they are together. There is a shake-up at the company in which Ryan work for, when recent Cornell graduate Natalie Keener, played by Anna Kendrick, is hired, and introduces a method of laying off employees with the use of videoconferencing. This is in conflict with Ryan’s lifestyle, work style, and personal philosophy; he believes that a personal approach to this line of business is the only appropriate one, but he also prefers to stay on the move, avoiding any commitment or standard routine. This is told well through his motivational speeches, in which the metaphorical “backpack” is emptied of all burdens and commitments on life. Ryan is asked by his boss to take Natalie on the road, to “show her the ropes” in a way. The intelligent and usually confident Natalie finds personal interfacing to be more intimidating and difficult to handle than she thought, and is somewhat angered by Ryan’s personal philosophy. Ryan finds an anchor to the “normal” part of his life in his sisters Kara and Julie, who is soon to be married. The film’s direction is fast and energetic, almost quirky at times, but this is never bothersome. There are very nice montages featuring the reactions of the fired, and Ryan’s daily routine, going through the airports and hotels. The acting is one of the stronger aspects of the movie; Clooney, Farmiga, and Keener are wonderful, but some of the smaller actors, particularly those who played the fired employees. Zach Galfianakis and J.K. Simmons are among these, and are memorable despite appearing for only one scene. However, I remain unsure if I found the ending satisfying or not, and a certain aspect regarding Farmiga’s character that was revealed bothered me, but as it relates to the themes of the movie, perhaps this is forgivable.
It runs at a nice pace, and features some great performances from Clooney, Farmiga, and Keener; the main theme might not be very accessible, but it is an interesting one regardless.