For director Jason Reitman, risky films pay off
By Bob Tourtellotte
TORONTO (Reuters) - They say on Wall Street that big risks pay big dividends, and the same can be said of the movies made by director Jason Reitman, whose new "Up In the Air" is winning high praise early in this year's Oscar race.
Reitman earned a best director Oscar nomination for his 2007 teen pregnancy film "Juno" and critical praise for his directing debut, tobacco industry satire "Thank You for Smoking." He is at it again with "Up In the Air" which, during a recession, has as its hero a man whose job is firing people.
But the movie, which premiered this weekend at Oscar race launch pad Toronto International Film Festival, goes far beyond the simple description above and delves deeply into the need for human connection, family bonds, and in the end, love.
Still, during a recession, "Up In the Air" walks the line between rewarding fans with a touching human comedy and turning them off with a story that skewers society's ills just as audiences are looking to escape real life at movie theaters.
The 31-year-old director has been involved in this risky business before. Indeed, he says he can't help himself.
"For whatever reason, I'm always drawn to those type of subjects," Reitman told Reuters. "My first movie was about cigarette issues. My second was about teenage pregnancy. I like walking that fine line. I get excited about it."
Reitman is the son of Hollywood producer Ivan Reitman, whose credits include broad comedies such as smash hit "Ghost Busters," but unlike his father's work, his films have deftly mixed elements of both comedy and drama.
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"Thank You for Smoking" was a satirical look at a tobacco industry public relations executive whose arguments for smoking seemed so ridiculous they made people laugh, but truly the film was about a man who longed to be a good father for his son. It was nominated for two Golden Globe awards.
"Juno," which sparked a debate about teen pregnancy among pro-life and pro-choice advocates, told of a young girl growing up and falling in love for the first time. It earned four Oscar nominations and won best screenwriting.
"'Up In the Air' is about a guy weighing the value of human connection. Why is this a movie of 2009? One part is the fact that people are getting laid off, but really it's about the fact we live disconnected," said Reitman.
"Here's a guy who professes that it's good to be surrounded by strangers, that you shouldn't have human connections, and he believes in that as a philosophy, until it is challenged by two strong women," he said.
The central character is Ryan Bingham (George Clooney). Charming and single, Ryan flies from city to city, working for a company that "helps" people transition from being fully employed to unemployed. In short, he's a corporate ax man.
But when he hooks up with a similar-thinking woman road warrior and takes a younger colleague with him for on the job training, he is forced to question his disconnected life.
Like "Thank You for Smoking" and "Juno" before it, "Up in the Air is winning over critics at festivals even before it hits theaters across the United States starting in November.
"'Up in the Air' is light and dark, hilarious and tragic, bouncy and brainy, romantic and real. It's everything that Hollywood has forgotten how to do, but we're blessed that Jason Reitman has remembered it," writes Entertainment Weekly's veteran critic Owen Gleiberman.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)