If any doubt remains that Jason Reitman has arrived as one of Hollywood’s most gifted young directors on his own merits, “Up in the Air,” his incisive comedy opening Friday about a corporate hatchet man who flies the friendly skies from one soul-crushing gig to the next, should put it to rest.
Reitman, 32, was determined early on to follow in the footsteps of his father Ivan, who directed hit 1980s comedies including “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters.” He was equally determined to prove himself behind the camera, and not hitch a ride on dad’s coattails.
It almost didn’t happen.
“I was taking all premed classes. I was ready to become a doctor,” he says, citing his reluctance to pursue a career that might be tainted by the suspicion of nepotism. “I wasn’t going to be a good doctor, mind you. You can do anything you put your mind to, but you may not do it well.”
Reitman’s flirtation with medicine ended after Ivan — who once considered opening a sandwich shop instead of answering his own creative calling — advised his son to embrace his talent for storytelling. Clearly, father knew best.
Reitman began submitting short films to festivals, and in 2005 made his feature-length debut with the critically acclaimed “Thank You for Smoking.” Two years later, his next movie, “Juno,” was nominated for Best Picture.
Does he still live in his father’s shadow?
“Not right now,” he says. “It’s not because of success or quality, but because I’ve decided to make different movies. The guys who really inspired me were the guys coming out of Sundance in the mid-’90s — Alexander Payne, Paul Thomas Anderson and Kevin Smith. They were making the films I wanted to make.”
“Up in the Air” is that kind of film — about “polarizing subjects and tricky characters who, in society’s mind, are on the wrong side of the answer” — as Reitman puts it.
In Ryan Bingham, the charismatic loner played by George Clooney, Reitman created such a character — a man proficient in business but otherwise deliberately disconnected from the world he sees from 30,000 feet. It’s a part Clooney plays well — Reitman suspects that speaks to the star’s real-life persona — and one the young director based partly on himself.
“I fantasize about being alone like that,” says Reitman, a husband, father and frequent flyer. “I’ve come to value my private time. People say you can’t live [like Bingham], but why not? Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had were with the person sitting in 12B. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
IF YOU GO
Up in the Air
Starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Tamala Jones, Chris Lowell
Written and directed by Jason Reitman
Running time 1 hour 49 minutes