Director Jason Reitman seems like one of the current generation of filmmakers destined for greatness. Raised by his father, the director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Stripes, Meatballs), Reitman grew up immersed in film, exploring his father's movie sets and learning about the craft from an early age.
Using the knowledge he gained as a child, Reitman matured into one of the most impressive directors of the past two decades, creating such award-winning hits as Juno and Up in the Air.
Jason Reitman movies are complex and feature numerous flawed individuals struggling to attain some semblance of happiness in their lives, balancing some sort of unethical career, or battling a momentous personal dilemma that will affect themselves, their family, and their loved ones.
From his debut effort with Thank You for Smoking to his most recent work on Ghostbusters: Afterlife (a sequel to his father's iconic movie), here is every one of his films, rankest from best to worst.
Reitman's second film, Juno is among the most complex coming-of-age stories ever put to film.
Set in a Midwestern town, the intelligent, strong-willed sixteen-year-old Juno (Elliot Page) has her life turned upside down upon discovering her pregnancy. Uncertain of her relationship with the father (Michael Cera), Juno contemplates giving the baby away to a middle-aged couple (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner.
As is the case with Reitman's best movies, there's no villain or central conflict in Juno. It's all just individuals trying to sort their lives out. Such a humanizing aspect to the story make Juno the sincere, endearing film it is. Full of heart and emotion, Juno continues to rank as Reitman's crowning cinematic achievement.
2. Up in The Air
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a Human Resources expert hired by companies when they need someone to be fired. When his corporation has a young, aspiring up-and-comer (Anna Kendrick) tag along with him, the two travel to various destinations across the U.S..
Featuring a star-studded cast (led by Clooney, Kendrick, Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman, Danny McBride, and Zach Galifianakis), Up in the Air is the perfect meditation on the more complex side of the business world (IE, the moral repercussions of firing people, throwing their lives in complete disarray).
Casting the suave Clooney as the nuanced main character made for a brilliant decision, with Clooney portraying a surface-level sense of charisma and confidence, hiding an emotional dissatisfaction and unhappiness beneath his calm, cool, and collected surface. It's an inspired parallel that illustrate some business executives might have in their professional careers, contrasted with the emptiness they feel in their personal lives.
3. Thank You for Smoking
In 2005, Reitman (then a mere 28) directed his first feature film, adapting the Christopher Buckley satirical novel, Thank You for Smoking, into his cinematic debut.
A humorous portrayal of Big Tobacco companies, Thank You for Smoking follows Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a tobacco spokesperson who uses numerous spin tactics to lobby for his company's products.
Throughout his twenties, Reitman turned down numerous opportunities to direct feature-length movie, preferring to direct short films and commercials until he had honed his craft. The years Reitman spent developing his style no doubt contributed to Thank You for Smoking‘s immediate success. Bearing no amateur mistakes, it’s a well-crafted movie that relies on an intelligent, thoughtful script penned by Reitman himself.
After his underwhelming work on Labor Day and Men, Women & Children, Reitman returned to form with his 2018 film, Tully.
Marlo (Theron) is a mother struggling to care for her two (soon to be three) children with her husband (Ron Livingstone), even after her wealthy brother (Mark Duplass) offers to hire her a nanny. When the emotional toll and stress of taking care of the kids causes Marlo to have a breakdown, she takes on the young nanny Tully (MacKenzie Davis), forming an emotional relationship with Tully that grows stronger with time.
Like Reitman and Juno Cody's previous collaborations, Tully follows a young woman whose life is coming apart around at the seams. In a way, it’s a movie that feels like a psychologically heavier version of Mary Poppins, all about a mysterious young nanny hired to take care of children, only to solve the parents’ problems along the way.
5. Young Adult
Reitman's first movie of the 2010s, Young Adult marked his second collaboration with screenwriter Diablo Cody after Juno. As you might expect, the movie provide yet another complex outlook on high school life, this time from the perspective of an adult rather than a young woman.
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a depressed, divorced, alcoholic ghostwriter whose career and personal life are spiraling down the drain. Returning her hometown, Mavis reconnects with her former high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson).
At its heart, Young Adult is an often brutal indictment of high school and adult life, featuring characters struggling to achieve personal happiness. Theron's Mavis, a role that won the actor critical acclaim and Golden Globe nomination, is a character who longs for a simpler time. The adult world has been unkind to her, and she wants only to return to the simplicity and romanticized vision she has of her youth.
Acclaimed upon release, Young Adult feels like the perfect companion piece to Juno, owing to the two lead characters' opposing personalities and world views. Whereas Elliot Page's Juno is a high school student faced with an adult decision, Young Adult‘s Mavis reverts back to the selfish, carefree lifestyle of a teenager.
6. Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Given the fact that his father directed the original 1984 Ghostbusters, Jason Reitman felt like the ideal director to tackle its spiritual sequel, Ghostbusters: Afterlife. A fitting continuation of the Reitman-directed comedy horror series, the film returned the Ghostbusters franchise to its roots, reintroducing many of its trademark characters alongside some new faces.
In the wake of their grandfather’s (Harold Ramis) death, two teenagers (McKenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard) and their mother (Carrie Coon) move into their grandpa’s derelict Oklahoma mansion. Exploring their new home, the siblings soon discover their grandfather’s membership in the famous Ghostbusters.
A decent enough reboot for the Ghostbusters series, Reitman’s personal attachment to Ghostbusters: Afterlife‘s subject material made for a moving film, the movie containing plenty of homages to the first Ghostbusters (including more than a few nods of respect to the deceased Ramis). It may find a more welcome home among hardcore fans of Ghostbusters, but even those unfamiliar with the series will be impressed by Reitman’s outing here.
7. The Front Runner
In the past, Reitman had flirted with “white collar” movies about conflicted characters in corporate settings (Thank You for Smoking and Up in the Air). Given his penchant for exploring the cutthroat ethics of the business world then, it seemed a natural choice for him to dive into the world of politics with his 2018 film, The Front Runner.
Based on Matt Lai's nonfiction book, former Senator Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) is a promising frontrunner set to win the 1988 Democratic Party Presidential Primaries. His successful campaign is soon thrown into havoc, however, when reporters investigate his private life, putting his marriage and his political aspirations in jeopardy.
Reitman's first biopic, The Front Runner had all the essential elements of a film tailor made to Reitman’s interest. It has an imperfect main character (Jackman's Hart) facing a personal and professional issue that disrupts his life. However, while Reitman's other movies deal with such issues in a warmer or more nuanced manner, The Front Runner never resolves the ethical or moral questions it raises. Jackman himself won unanimous praise for his role, but the movie earned a mixed reception from critics, and remains one of the more disappointing movies in Reitman's career.
8. Men, Women & Children
Based on the novel of the same name by Chad Kultgen, Men, Women & Children examines the massive impact technology and the Internet have had on people of various ages and backgrounds, including those in younger generations. As each character navigates the Internet Age, they try to measure the impact the online world has had on their own lives.
From its premise alone, Men, Women & Children sounds like a suitable subject matter for Reitman to add his own unique spin on. The resulting film, however, falls into more melodramatic and sappy territory. The messages about technology were heavy-handed and literal, feeling more like a cringey adaptation of a young adult novel than a movie that measured up to Reitman's earlier work.
Negatively received upon release, Men, Women & Children is up one of Reitman's most underwhelming films, with not even its promising cast (Adam Sandler, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, and Timothée Chalamet) able to redeem its lesser quality.
9. Labor Day
Adapted from the 2009 coming-of-age novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day follows a single mother (Kate Winslet) struggling to care for and connect with her 13-year-old son (Gattlin Griffith). After a chance encounter sees her taking care of an injured escaped convict (Josh Brolin), the woman becomes drawn to the man, who fulfills a paternal role for her young son.
Reitman tends to be at his best and most creative when relying on a more nuanced, emotional approach to his characters, treating them like real people (faults and all) rather than romanticized characters, as he had in Juno and Thank You for Smoking. It's this trait that Labor Day lacks, feeling much more melodramatic and artificial in its plot and characters than any other movie Reitman has worked on yet.
Based on the film's reception, it would appear audiences and critics felt the same way, the movie earning negative reviews and struggling to break even at the box office.