George Clooney signs on to Jason Reitman’s adaptation of the Walter Kirn novel, Up in the Air, starring as Ryan Bingham, “a management consultant, specializing in the lugubrious field of career transition counseling (i.e., he fires people for a living). But what Kirn’s airborne protagonist is really doing is pursuing his own private passion, his great white whale: accumulating one million miles in his frequent-flyer account.”

Just as GPS depends on triangulation to pinpoint a position, sometimes it takes a trio of films before we can triangulate the realm a new director hopes to stake out for himself. Following Thank You for Smoking and Juno with Up in the Air, Jason Reitman is creating intelligent grown-up comedies with a sharp edge of social commentary, involving borderline farcical situations in familiar settings. Ladies and gentleman, I give you Jason Reitman — America’s new Preston Sturges. (Comparisons to Sturges are about the highest praise I can give to a director.)

Up in the Air is one to keep an eye on, both as a serious contender for 2009 and as a potentially classic example of that rarest bird in Hollywood — a mature comedy with smart dialogue and cultural significance. Here’s a description of the novel:

Mocking the euphemisms of business speak is as easy as shooting fish in a designer barrel. But Kirn also takes on the corporate world’s weirdly mystical and paranoid side, its rhetoric of personal empowerment and its messianic devotion to gurus. Meanwhile, [Ryan Bignham’s] junket becomes progressively more surreal, complete with an evil nemesis as well as a mysteriously powerful firm called MythTech that’s working behind the scenes. And what’s worse, someone seems to have stolen his identity, assuming control of his credit cards and his all-important miles.

Is this model consumer being tracked as he makes his purchasing decisions, like an elk tagged by wildlife biologists? Or is he merely losing his mind? The ending answers these questions perhaps a little too neatly, but Kirn’s disturbing satire packs a mighty wallop nonetheless.

Imagine what George Clooney and Jason Reitman can do with that premise.

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  • Casey F.

    I’m pretty pumped. I think Smoking and Juno deserved bp noms so im definately a reitman fan. i think clooney works best in comedic territory as well

  • Alison Flynn

    I’m looking forward to seeing more of Reitman’s work. I was not a fan of Juno – I enjoyed it well enough but beyond that, nah. However I did like Thank You For Smoking a lot.

  • Alfredo

    Thank you for Not Smoking? Is that the sequel to Thank You For Smoking?

  • ack, thanks Alfredo. I fixed it. Typing before coffee, never wise.

    actually where I live, we only get the irony-free versions of movies.

    Cecilia and Robbie lived happily ever after in the cottage on the beach (Briony slipped and drowned in the fountain within the first 10 minutes.)

    Kevin Spacey was not Keyser Söze here. In our version, Keyser Söze was played by Richard Dreyfuss (typecast, so now the only roles he gets offered are Mephistopheles and Cheney.)

    and as a kid, when the Wizard of Oz was revealed as a fraud, Toto tore his throat out.

  • Pierre de Plume

    I don’t want to knock Reitman — he’s done some good work, but Sturges wrote more of his material and it was better. He was a genius.

  • Comparing Jason Reitman to Preston Sturges is a farce.

  • me and my giddy optimism, Pierre. I mean that I can see Reitman evolving to become the modern-day equivalent of a Sturges.

    (Because, who else have we got? Who else is even trying? Judd Apatow?)

    Preston Sturges’ first two movies were The Great McGinty and Christmas in July. Good films; not masterpieces. His genius did not become apparent until his third movie, The Lady Eve.

  • RRA’s Opinion is UP IN THE AIR *drumroll*

    Ryan, its possible. I mean why not?

    So far, Jason Reitman has done good and really its amazing how he’s fallen quite far as a apple from the tree that is his old man, Ivan Reitman.

    Really, who knew that the son of someone who shot STRIPES and MEATBALLS* would make something hilarious and yet smart like THANK YOU FOR SMOKING? You go Jason.

    *=I admit though, GHOSTBUSTERS was awesome. But really, Ivan Reitman hasn’t shot a decent picture since what, DAVE? Worthless at this rate.

  • Don’t forget, though, Sturges had written some very good scripts before MCGINTY, like EASY LIVING (the Jean Arthur one) and REMEMBER THE NIGHT, before he turned to directing. Also, while I loved JUNO, I thought THANK YOU FOR SMOKING was too facile. As for who else today could be compared to Sturges, I believe critics were tossing Alexander Payne’s name for that title a while back.

  • Pierre de Plume

    It took a “serious” film (The Great McGinty) for the Academy to acknowledge Sturges’s talent, while his comedies IMO are better.

  • S.T. Stevens

    Alexander Payne as the modern Preston Sturges? No no no no no no no no.

  • Nobody makes movies like Preston Sturges anymore. End of story.

  • Casey F.

    I think you guys are taking the Sturges comparison too seriously. I think Ryan just meant that Reitman makes good films with a similar tone and purpose and has the potential to be a great and very accomplished film maker

  • MGINTY a “serious” film? Granted, it deals with the subject of political corruption, but it’s a very funny film. His only “serious” film (at least that he directed) was THE GREAT MOMENT, and that also had funny moments. And while MCGINTY was the only Oscar he won, Sturges was nominated for writing MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK and HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO, and THE LADY EVE was nominated for original story, so they didn’t totally ignore his comedies.

  • Bob

    Clooney hasn’t signed on. He’s in talks.

  • Hey Ryan,
    I also compared Reitman to Sturges during last year’s race and actually recommended to him that he see “Sullivan’s Travels,” “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek,” and “Hail the Conquering Hero,” which he promised to do, noting that many people had been making the comparison. Glad to know that you and so many others are up on their classic movies!

  • A fair analogy, Ryan. I agree that Reitman seems to be playing in the Sturges ballpark. He hasn’t had as much success at the plate so far, but give him time.

  • Suzy

    Up in the Air: This seems like a usual Clooney film and should be good.
    I wonder what cities he’s flying to? Somewhere in Florida as one locale should be nice.

  • Afrika

    Saw it, it sucked, end of story.

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