How Up In The Air moved to the head of the Oscar queue...
Even before its release, Up In The Air is rubbing cultural nerves. Expertly crafted comedy though it may be, Jason Reitman’s third film opens with scenes of George Clooney’s charming axe man telling people they’ve got the sack – real-life workers it turns out, who’d been laid off in the US cities where Reitman went to film.
“The movie changed, the world changed, I changed,” says Reitman, who began writing Up In The Air six years ago when the world’s economy was still going gangbusters. “I was 25, I had a girlfriend and the script was quite satirical. The scenes about people getting fired were funny.” Come the global financial meltdown and suddenly they weren’t so hilarious anymore – and
Reitman got his wake-up call to reflect the true impact of job losses in his tale of a gallivanting commitment-phobe who travels around the country on corporate downsizing missions. Reitman always had Clooney in mind to star as Ryan Bingham, a man adrift whose callow personal quest is to surpass 10m frequent-flyer miles. “The connections between George Clooney’s persona and Ryan Bingham interested me,” he notes. When pressed to expand on those connections, though, he’ll only tease, “I think it’ll be obvious when you watch the film.”
Still, writing a script with an A-lister in mind is one thing. Getting them to say yes is another. Reitman flew to Clooney’s Lake Como villa to hand-deliver the script, then refused to leave until the actor read it. “And then we ate pizza,” says Gorgeous George, who immediately saw the connections and told Reitman he wanted to stare them straight in the eye. “Since it addresses certain things in my life, I found it a little more harrowing than a comedy,” sighs Clooney, who rewarded Reitman’s faith with one of the strongest turns of his career to date.
With his first two films, Thank You For Smoking and Juno, Reitman has already defied the perception of famous filmmakers’ offspring as – his words – “talentless brats with drug problems”. But being the son of Ivan Ghostbusters Reitman still hovers in the air. When Buzz sits down with him in a swanky London hotel, he shows us a pie chart on his iPhone, which keeps tabs of his interrogators’ favourite topics. Questions about ‘being Ivan Reitman’s son’ take up a hefty chunk. Reitman eventually posted the pie chart on Twitter (@JasonReitman, if you’re keen to follow his frequent tweets). Clooney, on the other hand, is no fan of social networking of any kind. “I would rather have a prostate exam on live television by a guy with very cold hands,” he says smoothly but firmly, “than be on Facebook.”
That Reitman achieves poignancy and insight without ever resorting to schmaltz is one of Up In The Air’s many triumphs. Another is that despite sinking into cold, dark depths, it also comes laced with hilarious moments. Already firmly positioned as an Oscar frontrunner, it has thrust 31-year-old Reitman into the ranks of Alexander Payne, Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze as one of the best, most idiosyncratic filmmakers of his generation.
“When Juno came out and people liked it, it all went very fast. I blinked my eyes and it was all over,” Reitman muses. “So right now I’m just trying to pause, enjoy it, take it in. Because you only make so many movies in your life that people like.”
Buzz points out that Reitman is three-for-three so far... “Which means I’m doomed for a series of failures. Best career move right now? If I died. Seriously – you’d be like, ‘What could have been...’