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The Carletonian

Director Jason Reitman premieres Up in the Air

<son Reitman likes confident characters.

Between charismatic tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor in 2005’s Thank You for Smoking and suave corporate downsizer Ryan Bingham in this year’s Up in the Air, the 32-year-old director knows how to make even the most detestable of characters appealing.

Reitman sat down with five area college journalists Tuesday in Minneapolis to discuss Up in the Air, his new film starring George Clooney, set for limited release Dec. 4.

Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a constant traveler who fires people for a living. He maintains no personal relationships and exudes a witty, “sharp” confidence to which Reitman says he’s drawn.

“I wish I could be that in the moment — that confident — and always have the right thing to say,” Reitman said.

Judging by his résumé, Reitman has a lot to be confident about. He’s the director of Thank You for Smoking and 2007’s Juno, which garnered four Oscar nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture, and won for Diablo Cody’s original screenplay. Up in the Air will likely follow suit, with Oscar buzz suggesting nominations for Clooney for Best Actor and Reitman for Best Screenplay and Picture.

The son of director/producer Ivan Reitman (of Ghostbusters and Stripes fame) and actress Geneviève Robert, Reitman grew up around movies and premiered his first short film at the Sundance Film Festival at age 21. He’s directed six short films as well as episodes of The Office and Saturday Night Live.

Reitman’s first two feature length films gained acclaim among both critics and the public, straddling the line between mainstream and indie appeal and adding a fresh, heartfelt dimension to comedic filmmaking.

With a clear penchant for humor both in his films and in person, Reitman explained the key to this balance.

“It’s talent… and my good looks,” he said. “But mostly it’s my talent.”

Seriously, though?

“Some stories are going to work; some aren’t,” he said. “It’s not magic. Everyone’s going to make bad movies. I think the trick is to make stories as personal as possible.”

That proved especially true in making Up in the Air. Reitman started the script six years ago, but with the economy’s downturn over the past year, the lead character’s career as a professional bearer of bad news became suddenly more relevant.

“I had written scenes where people got fired,” Reitman said, but they no longer seemed appropriate. For a relevant fix, the filming team placed Help Wanted ads in newspapers in St. Louis and Detroit, looking for people who had recently lost their jobs. They ended up filming 60 non-actors, first being re-fired and then reflecting on life after their job loss.

“It was one big decision to use those real people who got fired in the movie,” Reitman said. “That changed the tone of our shoot and of our film.”

The movie isn’t just about the economy, though. When 20-something businessperson Natalie (Anna Kendrick) lays out a new business model for Ryan’s boss (Jason Bateman), Ryan is forced to confront the possibility of settling down to life on the ground. He may have found a partner in fellow traveler Alex (Vera Farmiga), and suddenly he’s questioning his loner lifestyle.

Up in the Air then becomes a movie about loneliness, family relations and the ever-present tension between a professional and a personal life. As Ryan’s confident façade slips, revealing his own inner struggles, Reitman’s signature heartfelt emotion and talent for exploring life’s intricacies are in full display.

“I like my films to serve as a mirror,” he told the journalists. “The only thing I’m fairly confident in is that life is complicated.

And that little bit of confidence has taken Reitman a long way.

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