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Jewish Journal

Reitman follows heart to quirky ‘Juno’

by Pat Sierchio

December 6, 2007 | 7:00 pm

When Jason Reitman decided to become a filmmaker, he was not only following the path of his father, producer-director Ivan Reitman, but that of his heritage as well.

"I think Jewish people are great storytellers," the 30 year-old film director said. "Celebrating our heritage and our holidays has so much to do to with storytelling. We've survived so long, partly on our ability to tell stories. I love to make people laugh, and I've always had an attraction to telling stories."

Reitman's latest labor of love is "Juno," a quirky, but sweet comedy about a "whip-smart" Minnesota teen confronted with an unplanned pregnancy.

"Well, it kind of caught me off guard," Reitman said of the script by Diablo Cody. "I was in the midst of writing a screenplay when I was asked to read Diablo's screenplay and I just fell in love with it. It was unusually written, very original, with characters I hadn't seen before. About halfway through, I realized, if I don't direct this movie I'm going to regret it for the rest of my life."

"Juno" marks the debut screenplay written by novelist and blogger Cody, who first gained notoriety with her 2006 memoir "Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper."

According to the film's production notes, Cody wrote the screenplay for "Juno" while working as a phone-sex operator/insurance adjuster while living in Minneapolis.

"I love how original Diablo is, and we really get along," Reitman said. "We kind of have a brother-sister relationship."

The director and writer are already set to re-team for a second project; a comedic horror movie by Cody titled "Jennifer's Body," which Reitman will produce.

Originally, Reitman shied away from a film career fearing he would always be in the shadow of his father's success.

"I always felt a sensitivity over being my father's son and people feeling like the world was just handed over to me," he told the Los Angeles Times in a recent interview. When he did finally decide to become a filmmaker, his father gave his blessing.

"He told me I needed to follow my heart," Reitman recalled.

Ivan Reitman built his career as a producer and comedy director with films like "Stripes," "Twins" and the mega-hits "Ghostbusters" and "Ghostbusters 2."

Jason Reitman literally grew up on the sets of many of his father's productions. In fact, he was just 11 days old when he visited the set of the influential college comedy "Animal House," which Ivan Reitman produced.

Jason Reitman launched his feature film career in 2005 with the critically acclaimed dark comedy "Thank You for Smoking."

For that, Reitman directed from his own screenplay, which he adapted from the 1995 novel of the same name, by Christopher Buckley. Up until then, Reitman had been making short films and entering them in festivals. When he was about to make the leap to features, Reitman naturally turned to his father, whose advice was "to trust my screenplay." Reitman's debut feature proved the young director as a talent capable of handling mature subject matter.

For "Juno," his second feature, Reitman has assembled an exceptional cast that includes Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Michael Cera and, in the title role, 20-year-old Ellen Page. Reitman says of his young star, "I'd seen her in a movie called 'Hard Candy.' Anyone who sees that movie can't walk away without being impressed with her."

When he met the Nova Scotia native, Reitman was sold immediately. "I couldn't imagine anyone else reading the dialogue," he said.

Page and "Juno" have both received rave notices at festival screenings around the world, including the Rome Film Festival, where "Juno" won the Best Film Award.

One of the themes that runs throughout "Juno" is of family, a subject close to Reitman's heart. When 16-year-old Juno tells her family about her pregnancy, they are much more supportive than judgmental, a reaction that Reitman himself might embrace if confronted with the same situation.

"My wife and I talked about it, and I think if my daughter came to me at 16 and told me she was pregnant, I don't think I would freak out," Reitman said. "I'd be heartbroken, but I imagine we would be supportive of her."

Reitman's own relationship with his family may have contributed to his insights in that regard. "My parents have been very accepting with me. I've never had any kind of problem with them."

Unlike many Hollywood offspring, Jason Reitman was raised in a stable and loving atmosphere. "My parents have been together for over 30 years and are responsible for me being the man that I am," Reitman said. "I talk to my father every day. He's helped me become the person that I am."

Reitman also credits his mother, actress and director Genevieve Robert, with contributing to his abilities as a director: "No one's better at story telling than my dad and my mom." And in the tradition of his show business family, Reitman's wife of three years, Michele Lee, has also dabbled in film. The couple collaborated on a short comedy, "Consent," which Reitman screened at ATID's inaugural Jewish Film Festival at Sinai Temple in Westwood last April; he was also a guest speaker.

"I'd been a member of Sinai Temple since I was 10," Reitman said. "I got a call from them saying they were doing a film festival, and it was a thrill to show our film and talk to those aspiring young film makers."

Reitman hopes that when audiences see "Juno" they will be enlightened as well as entertained. "I think it's a movie that promotes open mindedness. I hope they laugh and have a good time," he said. "And I hope they will be more open-minded about the possibilities of family. I hope people will treat their children with an open mind. I think the family is ever changing, particularly today."

And how does his father feel about his son's success?

"I'm doing all right," Reitman laughed. "He's really proud of me."

"Juno" opened Dec. 5 in limited release.

For more information, visit http://www.foxsearchlight.com/juno/

Pat Sierchio is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Written By, the magazine of the Writers Guild of America, West.

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