Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Popcorn: Theory: Jason Retiman's films

I've seen all of Jason Reitman's major films, two of them Oscar nominees for Best Picture: 
  • Thank You for Smoking 
  • Juno 
  • Up in the Air

And I have to say, he's got the makings of a Hollywood Conservative.
Think about it. First, Thank You is based on humorist Christopher Buckley's (son of William F. Buckley) novel, and is about good parenting and being honest (well, as honest as a lobbyist can be...). Juno is about a pregnant teen who was going to abort her baby, but decides to give it up for adoption. Up in the Air's Natalie wants to be driving a Grand Cherokee full of kids, and scolds Ryan for his lack of personal connections.

Really, what these characters are first considering aren't bad. The lobbyist is just doing his job, and he's good at it. Doesn't matter if lying is involved, or that he never sees his son, or that he sleeps around.
Juno is a teenager. She could abort her baby. Lots of girls do. She doesn't need to be pregnant. (OK, yes, what she's considering is bad. Very bad. But not in some parts of society.)
Ryan has a good life. Doesn't matter that he doesn't have a real home, or a close family, or someone with which to share his life, or any real friends. He thinks he doesn't need those things.

But then..these characters change. They realize what they were missing, or what they would be missing if they'd continued doing what they were doing.

  • The lobbyist gets a better relationship with his son.
  • Juno has a relationship with the baby's adoptive mother, and she realizes how much she really loves Paulie. 
  • Ryan becomes less self-centered. He realizes that he wants to be closer to his family (he transfers a  million miles to his sister and her husband so they can have a honeymoon). Natalie had an impact on him. 
(Sorry, haven't seen Thank You for awhile, so I'm missing names.)

These are normal people. Juno's life is a lot like any high-schoolers. Ryan could be the corporate everyman, living for the job. 

In all of Reitman's movies, there's redemption of a sort. And it's usually a swing back to something more traditional that other people around the character have rejected (the other lobbyists, some of Juno's peers, Alex--even with her husband and family, she still wants "the escape."). 

The changes all the characters make are appalling to the others--at first. But then we see the reconciliation and acceptance. Juno's father and stepmother help her with the baby, and she falls in love with Paulie. The lobbyist is an outcast, but then is invited back. Ryan is heartbroken, but emerges with a new appreciation for Natalie and his "goofy" family. 

I don't know if that's compelling evidence that Reitman is a Hollywood Conservative. But I think there's a definite theme in his works, and it's one I like. 

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