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'Up in the Air' has Jason Reitman flying high with confidence

By STEVE PERSALL

Times Film Critic

Jason Reitman needed only two movies to prove himself one of today's finest filmmakers. His third time behind the camera, Up in the Air, could be Reitman's Oscar charm.

Up in the Air stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a professional downsizer of corporations who constantly travels and loves it. Ryan instinctively disconnects from personal relationships but gets shoved into one with a trainee (Anna Kendrick) who doesn't share his ideal of leaving fired workers with a measure of dignity.

Reitman's film has drawn comparisons to Billy Wilder's romantic comedies of ethics such as The Apartment and The Fortune Cookie. Wilder died with six Academy Awards to his credit. Only a fool would predict Reitman will match that. But he's practically guaranteed nominations for directing and co-writing Up in the Air, maybe even the statuettes.

Our telephone chat began with telling Reitman that I saw him exiting the first public showing of Up in the Air at the Telluride Film Festival:

I've never seen a filmmaker look so unworried after an early screening like that.

That's funny. I usually do have a good poker face. This is the first film — and I'm three movies in — that I have a certain new amount of confidence, in that the film is the story I wanted to tell, and how I wanted to tell it.

Film directing is basically just a question of taste. It's such an odd, complicated set of decisions. You get about a thousand questions per day, and it's almost binary: one, zero, zero, one, zero, you know?

It's the accumulation of all those answers that results in a tone, a look, a feel, and whether it moves the audience or not. It really takes a lot of viewings and talking to audiences to realize what kind of effect the movie is having, whether it's working or not. Three movies in, this is the most I've ever felt that I accomplished the story I wanted to tell.

Did you think of Clooney while writing the script?

I absolutely wrote it with George in mind. I told him I was writing it. I knew it wasn't a sure thing because it's a reality that he gets about 20 scripts a day. But I thought I was writing a movie that really defines George Clooney. It would be an opportunity for self-examination on many levels for him.

You have a relative newcomer, Anna Kendrick, not just matching up with Clooney but knocking her role out of the park. What led to her casting?

I saw her in a movie called Rocket Science and knew she isn't only a great actress but she has this voice, one of the smartest voices of her generation. She has an ability to convey smarts and wits that recalls actresses from the 1940s and '50s. She's almost from another time.

I wanted to write a smart young woman who thinks she really has the world down pat. Then she realizes she doesn't. I needed a girl who could be cocksure, then vulnerable. I brought Anna in and she just nailed it. She went up against 30 of the best actresses of her generation and just wiped the floor with them.

I've been really lucky now, two movies in a row working with two of the brightest young talents of their generation, Ellen Page and Anna Kendrick.

Both playing characters who can't admit their immaturity until a father figure steps up.

For whatever reason, I'm drawn to stories about parental relationships. That was very important in Thank You for Smoking and Juno, and in this film, in a way. There's almost a Paper Moon quality to George and Anna. He somehow becomes her surrogate father in this film. For a guy who we never see being a dad on screen, it was oddly natural for him.

'Up in the Air' has Jason Reitman flying high with confidence 12/16/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 16, 2009 3:30am]

    

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