Maestro: Jason Reitman
Known For: Topical, slice-of-life dramedies that go down easy with hidden complexity.
Influences: Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, and yes Ivan Reitman.
Masterpieces: No masterpieces yet, but he is promising.
Better than you remember: Juno and Up in the Air have gotten a lot of dissent, though neither is a bad movie and some of the hate is unwarranted.
Box Office: Juno has grossed 145 mil.
Favorite Actor: J.K. Simmons has appeared and memorably so in all of his films.
What is the current state of quality comedy? Let's look at some examples from this past year. There's the spoof (Zombieland), the indie ((500) Days of Summer), the cerebral indie (A Serious Man) and the "dude" movie (The Hangover). But what happened that that Billy Wilder, James Brooks comedy about people you know; movies that take place not in heightened reality but in reality reality? Jason Reitman is making them. And he's utilizing the self awareness of the spoof, the soundtrack of the indie, the abstract endings of the cerebral indie and the character arcs of the "dude" movie. He's mixing together these universal comedic elements intelligently and ending up with films that seem effortless, but aren't. Then there's that term "topical" which eventually and often unfairly turns into "dated". But all movies (and art) are pieces of history that reflect their time. Times change but people don't and that's why Reitman smartly knows to make films that are essentially about people. And yes of course the films tackle the themes of lobbyist influence in government, teen pregnancy and recession but only in terms of how they affect people.
The people in Reitmans' films start out brash and confident and eventually come to the realization that they lack the intelligence or understanding or safety in the world they thought they had. In two cases the result is to accept though learn from the= defeat (although in Thank You For Smoking, the tobacco lobbyist get's his groove back.) These aren't exactly the happiest endings ever played for a mainstream audience. And that's something really worth celebrating about Jason Reitman's films. They eschew a simplistic explanation of the world in favor of something a bit more resembling reality. And while we're talking about the complexity of his characters' arcs let's not overlook the essential contributions of his actors. Reitman doesn't get enough credit for his ability to work with actors. He helped Aaron Eckhart take a character who should have been a likable bad guy and turned him into a genuine good guy. He worked with unknown Ellen Page making her Juno into someone that had real depth, and he took George Clooney's craft to new heights by highlighting all of his best assets. Not to forget some of the more memorable supporting performances by the likes of J.K. Simmons, Adam Brody, Sam Elliot, Allison Janney, Jennifer Garner, J.K. Simmons, Vera Farmiga, Melanie Lynskey, Danny McBride and of course, J.K. Simmons.