Friday, October 3, 2014

What Happened to Jason Reitman?

Left to right: Rosemarie DeWitt and Adam Sandler
How did it come to this? After making an impressive career with films like Juno and Up in the Air, director Jason Reitman has done something disappointing. He has become somewhat of a shell of his former self. Where his past few films all had a sense of urgency that made me call him the contemporary Frank Capra, he hasn't quite captured the magic since Young Adult. In 2014 alone, he has released two films that have failed in one way or another. After Labor Day saw him attempt to do a straight-up drama in ways that were stilted, there was hope that it was a misguided effort. However, when Men, Women & Children matched the rating on critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes at 33%, the dreams of this being a potential Oscar nominee became shattered. What happened to Jason Reitman? He used to be so perfect.

The one caveat is that I haven't seen Men, Women & Children yet. With its limited release, it will likely be awhile before I share some opinions. Even then, I hold out hope anytime Reitman releases a new film because he explores contemporary American subjects in such fascinating details. From lobbying (Thank You for Smoking) to teenage pregnancy (Juno) to public relations (Up in the Air) to living in the past (Young Adult), he has effectively managed to make them into compelling stories. I felt that with the shifting landscape that he would have something important to say about social media and how it disconnects everyone. I secretly hoped for the best. Maybe he could even get a great performance out of Adam Sandler. That would've been something.

Yet upon the film's release on Wednesday, the reviews became shockingly negative in ways that were less expected than with Labor Day. This was a high concept film that had to pay off. Unfortunately, this review by Mike D'Angelo of The AV Club made me lose most of my enthusiasm in the opening paragraph:
"If someone told you about a movie that depicts the Internet with an alarmist hysteria capable of making Reefer Madness look levelheaded by comparison, in what year would you guess said movie was made? 1996? 2000? Would you believe it was made this year? Adapted by Jason Reitman (who also directed) and Erin Cressida Wilson from Chad Kultgen’s novel, Men, Women & Children means to serve as a wake-up call concerning the ways in which modern technology is warping relationships and expectations. Instead, it plays like a tone-deaf rant from people who stumbled online for the first time last week and could not believe what they saw. Why, there’s pornography! And violent video games! Did you know there’s a whole website (is that what they’re called?) devoted to facilitating extramarital affairs? What is this world coming to? Why are you looking at your phone right now instead of listening to me?"
That is a poetically harsh criticism against the film. However, it did describe my concerns in elaborate detail. I will still see it in hopes of being proven wrong, but it does appear that my once unchallenged faith in Reitman delivering high quality cinema is starting to wane. Could it be that he had a great run of four films and has lost his appeal almost immediately? There is a lot of baffling unraveling to do here. However, one thing is for sure. This is the end of Reitman's Oscar chances for 2014. If this film, which looked to be a provoking and important film based on the trailer, cannot deliver, then what can? It makes me sad, but it is something that had to be addressed. After having a decent run with decent reviews from film festivals, the film ultimately falters. 

Now it's time to see what films can stand up to the competition as the Oscar season kicks off. Maybe Gone Girl, which has continues to maintain considerable conversation, will be the first official lock. There's a whole bunch to keep an eye on and hopefully they will all continue to populate the conversation with excitement and speculation. It is a year that has yet to have a front runner, and that is something to be thankful for. It at least makes everything interesting. 

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