Talk about timely. There is a wonderful new film out today called Up in the Air in which George Clooney plays a “transition specialist,” a man whose job is to fly around the country firing people whose bosses are too embarrassed, or chicken, to do it themselves. He loves his work, not because he enjoys delivering bad news, but because he is at his best operating in the recycled oxygen world of planes and airports and dreary hotel rooms that all look the same. As directed and co-written by Jason Reitman, who also did Juno, Clooney’s assassin for hire is a character straight out of Camus, a man who lives, literally, up in the air.
The film is a stealth tragedy masquerading as a screwball comedy of the type they haven’t made since Tracy and Hepburn, with a terrific actress named Vera Famiga as Clooney’s soulless mate who is more than his equal in the witty double entendre department and an incredibly scary and funny Anna Kendrick as a young careerist and HR “efficiency expert” who joins his team and quickly proves to be more ruthless than both of them. Having grown up in front of a computer, she has no feeling for real people and how they behave whatsoever. When Clooney, in a rare rueful moment says to her “This is what we do, we take people at their most fragile and set them adrift,” her response is that they could do it a lot more efficiently if they used video-conferencing.
The heart of the film (and it does have one) emerges when people who have been fired start telling their stories directly to the camera in a kind of quasi-documentary fashion. You don’t have to know that these are real people telling real stories to get the idea. No wonder Up in the Air was named best picture of 2009 National Board of within a few hours of its release.
I suspect most of you won’t have seen it yet because it just opened today but don’t miss it, especially, if you work in HR. I’d be curious if some of you have experience in letting people go and how you handled the situation and how it made you feel. Leave some comments, please.