The Films of Jason Reitman
Thank You for Smoking, Juno, & Up in the Air
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Young Adult (October 18/11)
An impressive departure for both Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, Young Adult follows Charlize Theron's Mavis Gary, an emotionally-stunted and depressive author of adolescent fare, as she impulsively decides to return to her hometown after discovering that high school sweetheart Buddy (Patrick Wilson) has just had a baby - with the film, for the most part, detailing Mavis' efforts at winning Buddy back and also her growing bond with a former classmate (Patton Oswalt's Matt). It's clear right from the get-go that Reitman and Cody have little interest in returning to the comedic, off-kilter landscape of their breakout film, 2007's Juno, as Young Adult immediately establishes itself as a low-key character study that often goes to unexpectedly (and impressively) dark places. The movie's most potent weapon is, without question, Theron's consistently engrossing performance, with the actress' fearless, go-for-broke turn initially capturing the viewer's interest and ultimately ensuring that Mavis, despite her less-than-sunny personality, becomes a compelling (and surprisingly sympathetic) figure. (Oswalt, cast as a put-upon geek who remains haunted by his high school experiences, is nothing short of a revelation, as his work here is miles beyond anything he's done before.) Reitman's subdued approach certainly proves an ideal complement to Cody's episodic screenplay, and while the film is occasionally just a little too uneventful for its own good, Young Adult boasts an increasingly captivating third act that culminates in a showstopping sequence that's as enthralling as it is cringeworthy. The decidedly unpredictable ending cements the movie's place as a seriously divisive piece of work, and it's finally impossible to recall a more impressive leap forward for either a screenwriter or a director in recent memory.
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Men, Women & Children (October 17/14)
Based on Chad Kultgen's eponymous novel, Men, Women & Children details the exploits of several characters as they're forced to confront their relationships with technology and each other. Director Jason Reitman hews very closely to Kultgen's (far superior) 2011 book, with the filmmaker, at the outset, effectively capturing the source material's specific tone and atmosphere (ie it's often quite reminiscent of Tom Perrotta's body of work, Little Children especially). It's just as clear, however, that Reitman's inability to satisfactorily develop and flesh out the narrative's multitude of characters becomes more and more problematic as time progresses, and the viewer is, to an increasingly dismaying degree, simply unable to work up any real interest in or sympathy for the protagonists' respective exploits and dilemmas. The arms-length atmosphere is compounded by Reitman's decision to employ as subdued a vibe as one could envision, with the performances, as a result, unable to provide the spark or electricity that might've raised the proceedings out of its palpable doldrums. (Adam Sandler, cast as a sexually frustrated husband, delivers one of the most lifeless and charisma-free performances of his career here.) And although Reitman offers up a handful of emotional moments in the film's final stretch, Men, Women & Children's pervasive ineffectiveness drains such moments of their power and impact - which ultimately does confirm the movie's place as a rare misfire from an otherwise reliable filmmaker.
An intriguing yet not-entirely-successful drama, Tully follows Charlize Theron's Marlo as she attempts to solve her various domestic problems by hiring a night nanny (Mackenzie Davis' Tully) - with the movie detailing the bond that quickly begins to form between the disparate women. Filmmaker Jason Reitman delivers an almost astonishingly grim opening stretch that admittedly does feel quite authentic, as Reitman, along with scripter Diablo Cody, emphasizes the myriad of day-to-day issues faced by Theron's sympathetic central character - including an impending third child, a son with developmental issues, and a disconnected, disaffected husband (Ron Livingston's Drew). It's somber stuff that's elevated by Theron's consistently impressive performance, and yet Tully's ongoing inability to wholeheartedly grip the viewer is compounded by an absence of standout sequences (ie there's never a point at which the picture becomes more than just passable entertainment). The character-study bent of the film's midsection certainly perpetuates the arms-length atmosphere, although the agreeable chemistry between Theron and Davis' respective characters admittedly does keep things interesting - with the decidedly familiar bent of Marlo's character arc ultimately not as problematic as one might've feared. By the time the surprising yet silly twist ending rolls around, Tully has surely confirmed its place as a relatively disappointing effort from Reitman and Cody that's hardly in the same realm as their last collaboration, 2011's superlative Young Adult.