By Jim Schutze
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In a way, I suggest to Reitman, his movie career might be the product of a prolonged adolescent rebellion: the Beverly Hills "townie" who points his camera on the flatlands of the Middle West; the son of one of the industry's ultimate "high-concept" directors, determined to make small, character-driven movies. "I guess I'll say this," he answers. "My father is the child of Holocaust survivors who escaped Communist Czechoslovakia in the bottom of a boat. They wound up in Canada as refugees. My grandfather ran a car wash and a dry cleaners. So it's no wonder that my father wants to make movies that just make people happy, where you walk out feeling better about life than when you walked in. It's much easier to be a satirist when you grow up in Beverly Hills and never worry where your next meal is coming from."
It's not so easy, however, to keep making those kinds of movies in a Hollywood that has rarely been less hospitable to films for adults and to filmmakers who think outside the toy/happy-meal/video-game box. "That's what has made my job difficult right now," Reitman says, adding that Up in the Air—a movie he's been trying to make since before Thank You for Smoking—was green-lit only because of Clooney's presence and Juno's robust $231 million worldwide gross. "I'm making films in a kind of netherworld," he continues. "I'm not an indie guy. At the same time, I'm not going to spend $80 million on a movie—that, for me, makes no sense. If you think of the studios having these slots they're trying to fill on their release schedules, none of those slots bear any resemblance to what I'm making."
These days, with his early career anxieties behind him and Up in the Air tipped as an Oscar front-runner, Reitman still finds plenty to worry about, as if his constitution depended on a steady infusion of nervous energy. He worries about whether he's being a good husband to his wife, Michele, whom he credits for his ability to write strong female characters like the businesswomen played by Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air. He worries about whether he's being a good father to his young daughter, especially given the long periods of separation that come with making movies.
While shooting Up in the Air, he tells me, "For the first time, in a real way, I felt this strain, particularly because I'm the son of a director and I know what it was like to have my dad go away for months. The tricky thing about being a director is, even when you're home, you're not there. I could be sitting at the dinner table across from you, but in my mind I'm trying to figure out the movie. As soon as I start writing, all the way through postproduction, my mind is in the world of the characters, and I'm trying to figure the movie out."
Reitman worries that he may not be making movies fast enough. "Right now, I make a movie every two years, and I'd like it to be every year and a half," he says, noting that, historically speaking, most directors tend to make their best movies early in their careers. "If I have something to say, it's going to happen right now." When I ask Reitman where he sees himself 10 years from now, he tells me simply that he hopes he's made five more films, that they're all personal, and that most of them are good.
Reitman has his sights set squarely on what he hopes will be his next project—an adaptation of To Die For author Joyce Maynard's recent novel, Labor Day, about the relationship between a lonely 13-year-old boy, his single mother and the escaped convict who enters their lives over the holiday weekend. "It's just strange and dramatic and romantic," he says. And decidedly not high-concept. "I'm not going to be relying on cute jokes," he adds. "I'm not going to be relying on anything. I'm just going to tell the story."