#375. Jason Reitman

It can be tough to grow up in the shadow of your parents’ success. Furthermore, when your father is comedy director Ivan Reitman, the challenge can be even greater. While Ivan directed such classic comedies as Stripes (1981) and Ghostbusters (1984), his son, Jason Reitman, has shown he has the skills to follow in his father’s footsteps. Perhaps the exposure to the film-making industry at such a young age is what helped develop Jason Reitman into the director he is today. Even though Jason’s films aren’t nearly as sophomoric as many of his father’s, they still have a sharp edge of comedy that he uses to examine many controversial topics. In fact, Jason’s ability to create meaningful comedies earned him a few Oscar nominations, an accomplishment his father never managed with the screwball comedies he created in the 1980s. This week’s two films highlight some of Jason Reitman’s best works.

Up in the AirUp in the Air
Year: 2009
Rating: R
Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours

Jason Reitman’s films have earned critical acclaim for their portrayal of the human condition. From teenage pregnancy to getting fired, these life-changing moments can also be filled with comedic irony. Certain themes, like family and relationships, have been a common occurrence in Reitman’s films, including Young Adult (2011), Men, Women & Children (2014), and Tully (2018). Perhaps the most relatable moments in life are what propelled his films like Juno (2007) and Up in the Air (2009) into critical success. Both earned nominations for Best Picture, as well as Best Director nods for Reitman. What sets these films apart from his other works is his ability to convey the decisions we make in our lives, as well as the ones made for us by entities outside of our control. In the end, films like Juno and Up in the Air focus on the most fundamental element of humanity: relationships.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) has no home. He’s not homeless, but rather a businessman who travels and enjoys the experience so much that he doesn’t have a permanent address. As a minimalist, he gives motivational speeches about “What’s in Your Backpack?” to highlight how a life free of connections is liberating. Of course, the irony is that his job is to help companies fire their employees. He needs to travel to each of these businesses in person, as the termination process is something he feels needs to be done in person. When Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) introduces a video teleconference option, Ryan’s jet-set lifestyle might be in jeopardy. After attending his younger sister’s wedding and realizing that some amount of stability is beneficial, Ryan begins to rethink his philosophy of life.

Thank You for SmokingThank You for Smoking
Year: 2005
Rating: R
Length: 92 minutes / 1.53 hours

Ivan Reitman directed many films with ridiculous premises, like Twins (1988), Kindergarten Cop (1990), and Junior (1994). This is probably why Jason Reitman’s first feature-length film, Thank You for Smoking (2005), carries some of this ridiculousness over into the next generation. However, Thank You for Smoking relies on taking a controversial idea to its ultimate and logical conclusion instead of merely asking the question of “what if?” no matter how crazy that question may be. This is perhaps the greatest difference between Jason Reitman’s films and the films of his father: Jason’s films feel like they could actually happen. Since Thank You for Smoking was still early in Reitman’s directing career, there is a political focus that can be implied from his father’s films (like Stripes (1981) and Dave (1993)).

We all know smoking kills, but that still doesn’t stop lobbyists like Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) from using his spin tactics to show there is no link between smoking tobacco and lung cancer. Granted, the study that shows this lack of correlation was funded by the tobacco lobby. Since anti-tobacco sentiments are growing, Nick travels to Los Angeles to convince movie producers to add cigarette product placements in their films. Ironically enough, even the former Marlboro Man (Sam Elliott) is dying of cancer and is against the advertising of cigarettes. With legislation to put a skull and crossbones on packages of cigarettes, Nick hits the talk-show circuit to preach consumer choice to the nation. He still holds these beliefs, even after an attempt on his life using nicotine patches to give him nicotine poisoning. Now that he can’t ever smoke again, he finds this is the right time to start his own firm.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 relatable Jason Reitman movies

Bacon #: 2 (Dave / Frank Langella -> Frost/Nixon / Kevin Bacon)

#374. Fired!

It has been said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” For the rest of us who do have to work, our job can be a means to an end, or it can be the uneven side of a work/life balance. Many people define themselves by their jobs, using their profession as an opportunity to subtly hint at their income. Even though most people need jobs, there are many reasons these people might be fired from said jobs. From incompetence to downsizing, an individual’s livelihood usually hinges on whether or not they have a job. Being fired from a job isn’t the end of the world, it’s merely a forced transition. These transitions can either be positive or negative, based mostly on how much the person liked their job. This week’s two films highlight the impacts of being fired from a job.

                                                       The Secret Life of Walter MittyThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Year: 2013
Rating: PG
Length: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours

The continual improvement of technology is both a blessing and a curse. While these new technologies often make our lives easier through automation, this simplification can take away jobs from hard-working individuals. Furthermore, as the world increases its reliance on the digital realm, many tactile products must make the transition from analog to digital to remain relevant. In the age where all information is easily accessible on a computer, the need for newspapers, magazines, and hardcover books is reduced in kind. Some people will still hold on to these relics due to nostalgia or other sentimentality, but when the producers of such physical media find themselves in need of an upgrade, there are inevitably jobs that will be lost in the transition. The march of progress can certainly leave people behind in its dust.

Life magazine has recognized its need to transition into the digital world. As a result, the final printed issue needs an exceptional picture to represent the end of an era. Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is in charge of the photographs for the magazine and has just received a roll of pictures from famed photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). Sean indicates that negative #25 should be used for the cover, but the image is missing from the roll. While layoffs are happening all around him, Walter travels the world to find the elusive photojournalist so the final issue can get its cover image. The transition team in charge of layoffs continues to lose its patience as Walter tries to track down the picture. Eventually, Walter is fired just after finding the photo. Along the way, he has realized his life needs to be more than just a job.

Up in the AirUp in the Air
Year: 2009
Rating: R
Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours

Perhaps the most difficult part of a manager’s job is firing their employees. This can occasionally be made easier by the employee’s incompetence, but so many managers abhor conflict that employees can get away with incompetence and still keep their job (like in Office Space (1999)). However, when a company is struggling to survive, and layoffs need to happen, it is up to the manager to fire their employees. This can be much more difficult to handle for both parties, considering how many workers are still good at their jobs, despite the changes happening in the company. While some documentary films like Fired! (2007) discuss what it feels like to be fired from the employee’s side of the interaction, Up in the Air (2009) takes the opposite side of this equation and shows what it’s like to be the one facilitating the firing.

It’s never easy to fire someone, which is why many companies hire Human Resources consultants to do the dirty work for them. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is one of the best consultants, traveling across the country to help these companies fire their employees. His experience in the business has allowed him to recognize that people need a human element to the firing process. When a new video teleconferencing system is introduced by up-and-coming Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), Ryan feels obligated to show how the removal of the human element makes things worse. Natalie also learns this the hard way when her boyfriend dumps her via a text message. Of course, the real irony is when Ryan realizes he has not made any deeper human connections due to his job requiring him to travel extensively. Does he leave his career to put down roots?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 jobless gems