SAVE YOURSELF from “The Company Men”

24 03 2012

It must be tough to make a movie about unemployment after “Up in the Air.”  After Jason Reitman’s film so ingeniously brought employees who had actually been downsized in front of the camera to tell their stories, it felt to me like there was no other way to ever achieve the same candid honesty.  I can imagine writer/director John Wells, who had to premiere his film “The Company Men” at Sundance only a month after Reitman’s hit theaters, probably muttered a few expletives under his breath when he realized he had to compete with it.

Yes, it does portray in pretty clear detail the effects of the 2008 financial collapse on the hard-working employee, but did it really pick the right protagonist?  Granted I really don’t care for Ben Affleck unless he’s behind the camera, yet his Bobby Walker is suffering a crisis of luxury, not one of necessity.  Is that the story of the recession?  Tears shed over selling the Porsche and spousal fights over the country club membership.  You would think that having to move back in with his parents temporarily was equivalent to moving below the poverty line.

When it’s not indulging us with the sob stories of siblings sharing beds (when the children who were really affected by the recession were sleeping on the floor), it’s giving us another indictment of post-too big to fail corporate America a la “Margin Call” and “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”  We get it, Hollywood, you think the corporate world is full of sleazes like Jim Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) who will actually say he works for the shareholders and not for the good of his employees.  The man can’t even muster up any sympathy when one of his longest-tenured staffers commits the most clichéd act of desperation in film!

Depression is a sentiment a movie needs to earn to be justified, and “The Company Men” ultimately just wallows in self-pity rather than putting its stark depiction of a catastrophic time in American history to good use.  When a protagonist seriously considers underemployment as a long-term alternative, then I start to question a film’s social compass.  Yes, psychological satisfaction is important from your vocation … but does it balance with the intrinsic disappointment from not realizing your own sense of worth and potential?  Such a decline in our guiding philosophy might be one of the sadder aspects of the recession.

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5 responses

1 04 2012
Josh

“Yes, it does portray in pretty clear detail the effects of the 2008 financial collapse on the hard-working employee, but did it really pick the right protagonist? Granted I really don’t care for Ben Affleck unless he’s behind the camera, yet his Bobby Walker is suffering a crisis of luxury, not one of necessity. Is that the story of the recession? Tears shed over selling the Porsche and spousal fights over the country club membership. You would think that having to move back in with his parents temporarily was equivalent to moving below the poverty line.”

That sounds a lot like the callous and non-caring attitude of Up in the Air.

1 04 2012
Marshall

I wholeheartedly disagree. Reitman railed against a corporate world that was so cold that it hired a depersonalized company to downsize their employees for them. The fact that he brought it REAL people who had been fired in a similar way to retell one of the worst moments in their life made it that much more powerful. “I can’t afford to be out of a job right now.” “This is not fair.” “There are going to be people a lot more qualified than me now.” These are real fears and anxieties, and Reitman has the guts to portray them stark naked on screen. Excuse me for thinking John Wells’ shallow “let’s split the Patriots season tickets” sacrifice is no sacrifice at all. Sacrifice is J.K. Simmons’ character saying that his daughter will now suffer because unemployment won’t cover her asthma medications.

Next? I will defend “Up in the Air” to the end of time.

1 04 2012
Josh

You talk about the fact that the film uses real laid off people in scenes, but this is all marketing speak. They comprise a very small part of the film. The fired people in the film comprise of well-known actors like Zach Galifianakis, J.K. Simmons, and Tamala Jones. Indeed, all of this is irrelevant; using real people at all is just shallow Hollywood opportunism and a pursuit of the immoral Oscar.

The film isn’t even about unemployed struggle, but rather the moral questions of world-famous George Clooney. I don’t remember any corporate railing, nor would it be accurate to say the film is against companies hiring firms to fire their employees. After all, Clooney spends the bulk of the film arguing in favor of his way, saying he can give laid off employees an emotional lift, rather than doing it via computer.

You continue to put down The Company Men, a film I haven’t seen, being burned too many times by the faux-topicality of films like Up in the Air and so many others, but your criticisms all sound like those of the movie you love. You say The Company Men talking about splitting Patriots’ season tickets is not emotionally interesting? Clooney wore thousand-dollar suits and traveled the world. Life depicted in Up in the Air doesn’t look like any tent city reported on the news, nor did we see him applying for food stamps or moving into a relatives’ basement. While Up in the Air did have a fairly compelling romantic narrative, its pretensions of zeitgeist and empathy are shallow.

1 04 2012
Marshall

Rail might have been too strong, I’ll admit.

And yes, Reitman did hire actors to play some of the fired workers that make contributions to the narrative. But I accept this because they couldn’t bring the same authenticity to the scenes. These scenes are not just tacked on to the narrative, they provide important moments in the script that shine light on Ryan and Natalie. Thus, it is right to hire an actor for these scenes because using a real-life downsized employee to serve a narrative function would require them to sacrifice their authenticity.

The film is more about Clooney, yes, but it’s also very much about the corporate climate. I’m going to say it is VERY much against companies hiring professional downsizers and vehemently against the depersonalization of the world when it comes to things so personal as losing your job. While I’m open to your reading of “shallow” empathy/zeitgeist as merely agreeing to disagree, I think it’s incorrect to say Reitman’s film in the slightest espouses cold, heartless firing like Natalie would do via her “terminators” over the computer.

And since the film is about Clooney and the actual firings, not the ensuing unemployment like “The Company Men” is, I’m OK with there not being any tent cities. Clooney’s Bingham fires people middle-class people in large flyover cities who will really feel the pinch. Affleck’s Walker has an extensive familial safety net and plenty of assets he can sell to get by.

What I’m trying to argue is that if a movie really wants me to buy into the plight of the unemployed in this recession, there are people suffering a lot more than this that actually have earned the right to whine.

9 04 2012
Duke & The Movies :: With A Little Help From My Friends

[…] Marshall & The Movies reviews 2010′s The Company Men. […]

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