If you’ve got to be fired, there’s no better person to break the news than George Clooney. That’s the plot of his new film, Up in the Air. He travels the country firing people for companies who can’t do the dirty work themselves, but he helps people get a new start and has fun on the road too. It made me think of the other movies about downsizing, and I came up with quite a list of diverse titles. Honorary mention goes to the TV series The Office, which has been chronicling the economic crisis in real time.
In Good Company
If you have to lose a promotion to a kid half your age, at least you can have a heartwarming relationship where you both learn something. Dennis Quaid takes the high road after his company makes Topher Grace his boss. What the young hotshot can teach the old timer about business, the father and husband can teach his new boss about real life. But still, dude, don’t date the guy’s daughter. That’s just wrong.
A Life Less Ordinary
How’s this for revenge on the company that wants to replace you with a janitor robot? Take the boss’s gorgeous daughter hostage for a wild road trip full of surreal fantasy visions courtesy of a post-Trainspotting Danny Boyle. This is really charming and weird fun.
Remember the ’80s? Japan did everything better than us, so the big fear was that they’d come over and take over our businesses. This movie was about a Japanese company that buys an American factory, leaving Michael Keaton to run interference between his hometown boys and the new bosses. Oh, if only we could just let the Japanese bail us out this time…
Leaving Las Vegas
Here’s another way to respond to getting fired. Go to Las Vegas and drink yourself to death. Okay, so this isn’t any role model for how to handle tough times, but man, it was a powerful film. Nicolas Cage got a well-deserved Oscar for showing a man’s relentless pursuit of alcohol. At least it wasn’t a copout. There was no Hollywood dues ex machine. When Nicolas Cage decides to drink himself to death, he goes all the way.
Preston Sturges’ classic comedy probably reveals more about the idealism of post-Depression America than it does about the actual unemployment problem. A filmmaker decides to live as a hobo to get some real life experiences for his drama, but learns that even the most hard off people just want a good laugh. It’s charming and couldn’t we all use that kind of pick me up right about now?
The Big One
This is by far my favorite Michael Moore movie and it’s the one no one’s heard of. After Roger & Me, he did a follow up about his Downsize This book tour. On the road, he exposed way more corporate corruption and helped more people who’d been laid off. It’s also got his most profound and effective stunts. This movie changed my life. I was a college kid worried about finding a date. I saw a movie where people didn’t have enough food to feed their kids and learned that I have no problems. I was able to maintain that perspective through all of Moore’s films until Capitalism, when I realized I was now in the same boat as his subjects.
This is the cautionary tale to any boss who wants to cut his budget, especially if you’re in a highly specialized field. Forget about the postal workers, you leave a defense contractor with idle hands and he’ll tear up the city. I love how the big controversy when this movie came out was not that he’s killing innocent bystanders. Actual defense contractors were offended that they could come up with smarter ways to terrorize a city than Michael Douglas did in the film. Defense contractors have been gainfully employed ever since.
If only it were really this simple, but we appreciate the satire. A cubicle suit actually survives a round of layoffs, and thrives even, by ceasing to care about work at all. His bosses are so impressed they determine to give him a better job that more constructively utilizes his skills. And he gets to do Jennifer Aniston. Poor Milton gets the last laugh though.
Charlie Chaplin always knew what was going on. As technological advances mechanized a significant portion of labor, Chaplin turned it into arguably his greatest comic set pieces. The feeding machine is an example of impeccable comic timing, and watching Chaplin go through the gears is a marvel even by today’s special effects standards. Actually, my favorite sequence is when he roller skates blindfolded in a department store. He certainly had more fun than the squatters in Rent.
Well, no one has made a more graceful exit than sports agent extraordinaire Jerry Maguire. After pouring his heart and soul into an emotional memo, the cold corporate suits let him go. As played by Tom Cruise, Jerry holds his head high and stands by his morals, even pretending to flip out just to freak people out. With only one meek secretary standing by his side, Jerry starts his own business and makes good with his one client. It’s an inspiration to the self-employed everywhere.
Brazilian Bikini Roller Boxing
The Girls of Hollyoaks