I've been a movie enthusiast my whole life and been writing movie reviews for over 15 years.
On November 19, 2021, after a year and a half delay due to COVID-19, Ghostbusters Afterlife made its way into theaters. Director Jason Reitman took the reins for the fourth Ghostbusters movie, as his father Ivan Reitman directed the first two Ghostbusters back in 1984 and 1989.
Since his feature debut Thank You For Smoking, Jason Reitman’s career has been marked by diversity. While they all haven’t been as successful as his 2007 Oscar and box-office darling Juno, Reitman never repeats himself and continues to grow as an artist. Now that we've had time to digest his contribution to the Ghostbusters franchise, let’s review Reitman’s nine films.
1. Up In The Air (2009)
Jason Reitman’s perfectly modulated dramedy features career best performances from George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, and Vera Farmiga (all nominated for Oscars). Taking on the economic downturn of the late aughties, Reitman gives George Clooney’s “Termination Facilitator” Ryan Bingham, more shades of humanity than you’d expect considering his job is to fire people by the handful. You don’t necessarily like Bingham, but over the course of the movie you do feel for him.
The film itself rarely missteps, is full of surprises, and there is no treacly happy ending. The ending is perfect. Capturing a period in time as only movies can. It’s not up in the air that this is one of the best movies of the aughties and Jason Reitman’s best.
2. Juno (2007)
You can kvetch about the dialogue in Diablo Cody’s Oscar-winning screenplay. You can complain about how the characters in Juno never feel like “real” people, as if you go to the movies to actually see real people. Or you can surrender yourself to Elliot Page’s incandescent performance as the titular character, a pregnant teen trying to navigate her way through the next nine months of her young life.
Reitman and Cody manage to find the perfect tone as you understand what Juno is going through but understand that her cutting humor is part of her personality, a way of processing her relatable terror. Most of all, you just want to see Juno be happy at the end of all of this. Like Up in the Air, the Cody-Reitman connection nail the appropriate ending for all the characters. Especially Juno.
3. Young Adult (2011)
The second collaboration between Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody features Charlize Theron in one of her best performances as YA author Mavis Gary. Her plans to invade her hometown to visit her high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) go wrong, but never in the ways that you’d expect in this black comedy.
Those expecting a rehash of Juno may not have been more surprised as Young Adult is much darker than anything Jason Reitman has ever done. Mavis Gary is not a likeable character in any way with barely any redeeming qualities, but Theron is magnetic in the role. You hope Mavis can be redeemed somehow. She may be, but it won’t be in this movie. Pitch black and full or surprises, Young Adult keeps you off balance until the inevitable conclusion.
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4. Tully (2018)
Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody re-up with Charlize Theron again in this pean to the peaks and valleys of motherhood. Marlo’s (Theron) unexpected third child forces her to hire a nanny Tully (Mackenzie Davis). Tully changes things to say the least, but never in the ways that you expect. Reitman and Cody’s ode to being a mother feels like a Lifetime movie (actually referenced in the movie) that gets turned on its ear.
Charlize Theron and Mackenzie Davis have perfect chemistry together as…if you’ve seen the movie you know. Some find its ending problematic and it took me a second viewing to realize how well it’s done. In fact, the movie works a lot better the second time around. This is the third best movie from Reitman and Cody, and it stands on its own as well.
5. Thank You For Smoking (2005)
Jason Reitman’s debut is a pitch black comedy with a star making turn for Aaron Eckhart. Playing the captivating Big Tobacco spokesperson Nick Naylor, Eckhart lays on the charm and the smarm. Even if you can’t believe a word Naylor says, you can understand why so many people are taken in with him.
The almost perfect first hour is leveled out when Reitman softens the edges during the third act, almost as a concession to mainstream audiences. This is a very good movie that could have been great, but it marked Reitman as a filmmaker to watch.
6. Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)
A family-centered nostalgia explosion. Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters doesn’t feel so much like a sequel as it does an extension of the franchise his father Ivan Reitman started in 1984. It plays like a supernatural YA movie with no real hint of the PG-13 jokes of the original. But for the most part it works because there’s just enough fan service for who might have seen Ghostbusters in theaters relatively happy.
If you found the first two acts pedestrian, the third more than makes up for it. At the very least it’s better than Ghostbusters II.
7. Labor Day (2013)
A dramedy that, for most if its running time, plays like a Lifetime movie and not in a good way. A single mom (Kate Winslet) offer a ride to a man (Josh Brolin) that ends up being an escaped con. They have feelings for each other.
That premise feels so farfetched and unintentionally funny, but Reitman’s delicate direction and lived-in performances by Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin make this one watchable, even as you laugh to yourself over some of the movie’s more ridiculous turns. Rarely has the making of a pie felt so unerotic.
8. Men, Women & Children (2014)
Jason Reitman’s ensemble piece on how the internet has changed our lives features solid dramatic work from Adam Sandler, Judy Greer, and Emma Thompson in detached voice-over. Hammered by critics when it first came out, with tempered expectations it’s an efficiently made and very watchable movie. You get the movie’s trying to make some grand statement on how we live our lives, but there aren’t enough story tangents that hold our interest for more than a scene or two.
As can happen with a hyperlink movie with multiple story strands, some arcs hold our attention more than others. All the stories are predictable if more than a little preachy, but at least the actors are doing their best with the material given.
9. The Front Runner (2018)
A misfire with a talented but wasted cast. Not a terrible movie by any means, but in this recounting of the rise and fall of Presidential hopeful Gary Hart, you’re rarely sure of Reitman’s point of view or what he’s actually trying to say with the movie. The Altman-esque approach or overlapping dialogue and languid shots feels fitting considering the subject matter but it only serves to underline that there’s nothing really compelling going on.
Hugh Jackman is miscast as Gary Hart as he plays Hart as too cynical and jaded for a man whose campaign was anchored on hope for the future. The rest of the cast does their best but so many well-acted scenes add up to nothing. A man’s Presidential campaign died before it could get started because of a “scandal” that feels quaint and laughable by today’s standards. A fascinating movie could have been made from that premise. This isn’t it.
Whether you've seen Ghostbusters: Afterlife or not, be sure to revisit Jason Reitman's previous eight films. He shows a willingness to take creative risks, even if they’re not entirely successful. It’s no surprise A-list actors are willing to work with him as he draws excellent performances throughout his filmography.
Already surpassing his father in terms of range and quality of films, Jason Reitman remains a director whose films challenge himself as well as the viewer.
© 2021 Noel Penaflor