You've probably heard by now that Up In The Air is a very good*, thoughtful movie starring George Clooney as a man who fires people for a living and who mostly enjoys the muffled and disconnected life afforded by a life of constant travel and frequent flyer benefits. You may have also heard that American Airlines and Hilton Hotels are all over the movie, but provided only production services rather than a product placement fee. In general, the public response to the tie-up is that both American and Hilton got a great deal. I'm not so sure.
The heart of the story (originally written long before the current downturn) is about individual isolation versus connection. And I appreciated that the benefits of isolation were not simply dismissed as neurotic, sad and destructive. (At least not initially. This is Hollywood, after all, not Sweden.)
But the wintery setting of mass layoffs conducted with bland, technological efficiency by companies constantly chirping "We Value Your Loyalty!" is obviously not irrelevant. And it's here that I wonder what the PR people were thinking. Each of Clooney's business trips is tattooed by quick portraits of laid-off workers responding to the news of their firing. Some are angry. Some are tearful. Most are simply stunned. (And these are for the most part not actors, but real people who were recently laid-off, recounting their exit interviews. Their performances are astonishing.)
And between each of these moments of despair, the thread along which they are strung, is the word AMERICAN in big red letters: on the planes, on the nametags of desk clerks programmed to greet Mr. Clooney with "personalized" Platinum Club attention and on the flight lounge posters that also say (of course) "We Value Your Loyalty!" when loyalty is the Holy Ghost of the movie, present by its overwhelming absence. These moments were made possible by American Airlines.
There are a number of other digs in the movie (as when Clooney, moonlighting as a motivational speaker says, "Whether you own just a studio apartment or a two-bedroom home..." Ouch. Even the AMERICAN dream has been downsized.) But again, it's nothing new to see movies taking a shot at big business. What's interesting is that American didn't see that they're part of the target in this one. Reebok sued when Jerry Maguire made them look soulless. But maybe that's the best airlines can hope for at this point.
*Though not everyone agrees. Here is an hilariously obtuse review from the conservative American Spectator.