December 5, 2007 / 12:06 AM / in 10 years

Director Jason Reitman comes out of dad's shadow

<p>Jason Reitman, who directed the movie "Juno", poses at the movie's premiere at the Village theatre in Westwood, California December 3, 2007. The movie opens in the U.S. on December 5. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Director Jason Reitman knew life changed when his first movie “Thank You for Smoking” was a hit. Not because of reviews or box office success but because his father, director Ivan Reitman, began asking for advice.

The younger Reitman, 30, sees his second low-budget comedy, “Juno,” open in U.S. theaters on Wednesday after becoming a darling at festivals. Last week it earned four independent Spirit Award nominations, including a bid for best film.

Despite his success, Reitman told Reuters he was concerned his latest offering would fail to live up to the first. But offsetting that worry was the fact he had already impressed his dad, whose work ranges from directing the 1984 hit “Ghost Busters” to producing the 2003 comedy “Old School.” After “Thank You for Smoking,” his father began regularly seeking his advice about movie-making.

“I’ve spent 30 years asking him for advice on any big decision I’ve ever had. The fact he would now come to me for advice is,” Reitman reflected, “wonderful beyond words.”

Reitman seems down to earth for a young filmmaker. He answers questions thoughtfully and tells stories with self-deprecating humor. He is not a fixture at Hollywood nightclubs but a family guy -- married with one child.

In fact, he was sought out to direct “Juno” at roughly the same time his wife became pregnant, and the timing seemed perfect.

“Juno” is an unconventional teen romance dealing with marital and family relationships. It stars relative newcomer Ellen Page as a 16-year-old who becomes pregnant, decides to have the baby, then give it up via a prearranged adoption.

NO ‘SMOKING’

“Juno” is a far cry from “Thank You for Smoking,” a political satire dealing with a tobacco industry lobbyist. It premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, won strong reviews for its humor and insight, and grossed $40 million at global box offices -- not bad for a $6 million movie.

This year, “Juno” became a breakout hit at the Toronto International Film Festival and so far has generated better reviews overall than “Smoking.”

Reitman said well before he began work on “Juno,” he was writing a screenplay similar to “Smoking” and was concerned he might become known for doing just one type of film.

“Being the son of a filmmaker, you are aware of a career as a director. You don’t think of it as just movies, but as a life,” he said. “I couldn’t help but wonder how my life was going to go ... One film does not make a career.”

Because “Juno” involves the politicized issue of teen pregnancy, it could have been dragged into the national debate over abortion. But Reitman reckons the film’s sense of humor has helped prevent that from happening.

Whereas the comedy in “Smoking” stemmed from its political satire, in “Juno” the humor is derived from human frailties and family dynamics.

“If we had made it as a straight drama, people would emotionally take sides and not listen. But because of the humor people start enjoying the film for its story,” he said.

Reitman credits his wry sense of humor to a different perspective he developed growing up as “a shy kid and kind of a loser in high school,” as well as to a “very funny mother and father.”

“‘Thank You for Smoking’ was my proving ground. (My dad) really recognized me as a filmmaker in my own right,” Reitman said. “I always had a great storyteller on speed dial, and he realized he had a decent storyteller on speed dial, too.”

Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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