The film Up in the Air opens in theaters on Friday, and a large part of the film is about people leaving their jobs, usually involuntarily. George Clooney's character makes a living from laying off people, and the reactions of the dismissed employees in the film are often amazing. I must say, I was laid off from a day job a few months ago (and miraculously found a better one a month later, so no need for sympathy), and after seeing Up in the Air, I wished it had been Clooney's character that did the deed. He really does have a knack.
Hollywood has given us so many examples of ways people are laid off, fired, and quit ... or do something spectacularly insane that they know will end their employment one way or another. There must be 50 ways to leave your employer, especially if Paul Simon is involved, but we have space for seven. I know I've left out some excellent scenes -- my original list had 14 films on it -- so don't hesitate to let us know which ones I forgot or was crazy not to include. Warning: There may be a few spoilers below.
1. With a bird and a smile: Office Space
The most obvious choice for this list, we could argue that Office Space contains nothing but people who are practically trying to get fired -- like Peter after his hypnosis session -- or the reactions of people who are fired. But my favorite scene of someone leaving their job in this movie is someone quitting: Joanna (Jennifer Aniston) getting fed up with her Chotchke's boss (Mike Judge) and his crazy flair obsession. "I do want to express myself, and I don't need 37 pieces of flair to do it." Just one middle finger.
2. With a threatened bang: Network
The speech everyone likes to quote from Network is "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" But we tend to forget that Howard Beale's (Peter Finch) "prophet of the airwaves" career actually started with a layoff. Beale learns that due to low ratings, he'll be off the air in two weeks. His response is to go on the air and tell everyone that he plans to kill himself on live television. This is, of course, NOT a recommended method of trying to get your job back, even if it did work for him short-term. Watch the scene for yourself in the first two minutes of the following video.
3. Like a superhero: The Incredibles
Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) doesn't get fired by a George Clooney type -- no, the big guy is given the axe by the practically miniature Gilbert Huph, voiced by Wallace Shawn. At least he got to shove his boss through a number of walls before getting canned. Have you never wished you had superpowers in a similar situation? The whole movie is about superheroes who lose their jobs, and have to find mundane work while hiding their real talents. In this economy, a lot of people can probably sympathize.
4. With the bathroom key: The Apartment
Billy Wilder's film The Apartment is a good warning about what can happen when you mix your office life with your home life, whether you're dating the boss or just loaning him your bachelor apartment so he can entertain a ladyfriend on the side. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) fires his secretary after she's hinted to coworker Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) that Fran isn't the only woman in the office Sheldrake's been involved with. But the great departure scene occurs a little later in the film, C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) decides he no longer wants to keep giving Sheldrake the key to his apartment, especially not for trysts with Miss Kubelik, and hands him a different key instead. Understated and excellent.
5. With a parting curse: Broadcast News
Broadcast News is the second movie on the list set in the world of TV news, an industry where cancellations are a well-known way of life. The layoffs in this movie at least some with some priceless dialogue. Jack Nicholson, the network's top anchorman, is lamenting the need to cut staff: "This is a brutal layoff." Someone accidentally responds with "You could make it less brutal by knocking a million or so off your salary."
But the best line is from an aging newsroom staffer who is canned and then asked by his boss if there's anything he can do for him. The guy's reply? "Well, I certainly hope you die soon."
6. With snappy dialogue: His Girl Friday
Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) isn't just trying to quit her job as a top investigative reporter, she's trying tell her editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) that he needs to accept their divorce as final. The wisecracking duo can barely stop for breath in this opening sequence, where it seems that scoring off one another, and being witty, is the protective armor they have to wear when they're together. Leaving the job she loves -- and the man she used to love -- may be painful as hell, but Hildy hides it with some great one-liners. Fortunately for us, Walter isn't letting her leave that easily, so we get a whole movie full of delicious dialogue. Check out the following video clip to see what I mean.
7. Refusing to take the consolation prize: Lost in America
Here we are with another Albert Brooks movie -- he is wonderful at losing his job onscreen, you must admit. In Lost in America, his character David Howard is so certain he'll get a vice president job that he and his wife buy a new huge house and he's been spending a lot of time with Mercedes salesmen. His boss calls him into the office ... and informs him that he's "too clever" for a vice president's job and should instead move to New York to work with a terrible co-worker on a new client. By the time the scene ends, he's been fired, but grabs the opportunity to chuck it all and travel the country with his wife. That doesn't turn out too well either, but it's nice to watch someone fight back instead of sucking up to keep a job.
Honorable mention: Clerks II
My husband pointed out last night that Clerks II takes place primarily in one day when Dante is leaving his job -- and perhaps his city -- forever. Furthermore, many of the things Dante and Randal do on their worksite in this movie are things that would definitely get you fired, from Randal's language while working to the notorious bachelor party in the evening. You can probably find 50 ways to leave a job from this movie alone. However, I didn't include it above because for some reason I can't fathom, Clerks II keeps creeping into my Cinematical 7 lists.