Tuesday, January 3, 2012

From the Cutting Room Floor: Jason Reitman's Anonymous Narcissists

From the Cutting Room Floor
Jason Reitman's Anonymous Narcissists

Rather than just giving you the link to my latest article on Sound on Sight, I thought that I would include a few snippets of what didn't make it into the article and how I came to write it.

I kept trying to see Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol before Christmas, largely to watch the extended preview of Christopher Nolan's next Batman film, but it was always sold out. The first time that I tried to get in and failed, I went Christmas shopping instead. The second time, I went to see Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows and made it a double feature with Jason Reitman and Cody Diablo's follow-up to Juno: Young Adult.

Simon Howell beat me to the review with his excellent summary. Ricky and Simon never refuse second looks at films and many of my reviews are second takes on films already reviewed on the site including my reviews of Bellflower, The Innkeepers, The Devil's Double and The Adventures of Tintin. But, they don't exactly encourage the duplication either. Usually, if I am writing a second review, it is because I fundamentally disagreed with the first review (The Innkeepers) or I didn't know that it existed (The Devil's Double).

In the case of Simon's review (and Roger Ebert's excellent review that muses on Mavis' alcoholism) I didn't so much as disagree with the reviews as wonder at the notion that Young Adult was in some way a complete departure for Jason Reitman. Where others saw differences, I saw only similarities.

It was obviously a bit of a departure by Cody Diablo and, as she herself has admitted, a commentary and reaction to her previous scripts about young adults and the critical reaction to them. What was most interesting to me, is that in creating Mavis Gary, Cody created a character who was even more a Jason Reitman character than Juno MacGuff, or to put it another way, she shifted her focus from Juno to a secondary character from that film, the narcissistic Mark Loring.

But while Young Adult ended up being more similar to Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air than to Juno, all of Jason Reitman's films struggle with the conflict between selfishness and selflessness, between narcissism and altruism.

It's not the only similarity between the four films. All of them have fantastic title sequences  - little short films that captivate and offer a miniature insight into the entire film.

All four films also have protagonists with an extraordinary facility for language. As Nick Naylor (without any humilty whatsoever) says, "Michael Jordan plays ball. Charles Manson kills people. I talk." Ryan Bingham talks people into believing that being fired is a good thing, telling them, "Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat where you are now. And it's because they sat there that they were able to do it." Juno, while still only 16, is constantly playing with language with a facility beyond her years. While Mavis Gary is nowhere near as good as Nick, Ryan or Juno at talking, she is easily their equal at writing, completing her final Waverly Prep novel during the course of the film despite being on a Lost Weekend type bender from the opening frame to the last. (One of the reasons that Roger Ebert may have identified so closely with Mavis Gary is that he admits that early in his writing career he was an alcoholic. When Jian Ghomeshi asked him if his alcoholism affected his professional life, Ebert proudly told him that even at the worst of his drinking, he never missed a deadline.)

The one part of the article that I regret is that it may be so clinical in its analysis that it may hide how much I admire Jason Reitman's talents as a writer and director and how much I like all of his films. Suffice it to say that I wouldn't waste the effort on crappy films or a crappy director. (Next up Udo Kier!)

I also admit to being a bit nervous about throwing in Groundhog Day, and full confession here: I originally remembered Groundhog Day as having been written and directed by Ivan Reitman, Jason's Dad, not Harold Ramis, a friend and collaborator of Ivan Reitman, but I felt that the point was worth making and made for a natural conclusion to the article, so what the hell.


The final thing that I couldn't cram into the article is how much Mavis Gary seems motivated by a fear of failure, scarred perhaps by her miscarriage of Buddys baby and her failed marriage of the (unnamed?) husband that she married after her break-up with Buddy. This fear of failure seems to be what has been causing her writer's block as the film starts and the fact that the Waverly Prep series has been cancelled, that she is supposed to be writing the final volume in the series, can be seen as another failure. That Mavis is the ghost writer for someone else's series rather than the creator of her own and her reliance on eavesdopped conversations by teens for her dialogue are also signs of her fear of failure. Her compulsive preparations for her encounters with Buddy; her donning of the war paint points a kind of self-loathing that seems to say that she is afraid of simply being who she is. Mavis' narcissism is not so much self-love as love of herself as some imagined ideal; who seh becomes rather than who she is.

One of the other reasons that Mavis hates Beth Slade is that Beth has no fear of failure, playing drums for the local rock band Nipple Confusion with little real talent, but great enthusiasm.

Read my article about the tragic flaw that binds all the protagonists of Jason Reitman's funny tragedies.

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