By Christopher Campbell | Spout December 5, 2011 at 10:34AM
Short Starts is a column devoted to kicking off the week with a short film, typically one tied to a new release. Today we look at a few early films by Jason Reitman, whose latest feature, "Young Adult," opens in limited release this week.
When you're the son of a successful Hollywood director, you probably don't have to work too hard to get your own big break. But Jason Reitman, son of Ivan Reitman, didn't take the easy road to following in his father's footsteps. He honed his craft helming commercials and writing and directing a lot of short films while declining paycheck gigs like "Dude, Where's My Car?" in order to make his feature debut something special, as "Thank You for Smoking" certainly is. Since then, he's earned four Academy Award nominations, one for "Juno," the other three for "Up in the Air," and now he's garnering great buzz for his fourth feature, "Young Adult."
So how about those early shorts? Were they disposable practice runs or immediate promise of a future Oscar contender? His first film, 1998's "Operation," made when Reitman was barely in his 20s, was selected for Sundance. As was his third short, 2000's "In God We Trust," which you can watch below. It's 16 and a half minutes and features the director in a little cameo. Also look for an appearance by Jim O'Heir, best known as Jerry from "Parks and Recreation."
That one is pretty good, at least for something seemingly inspired by "Defending Your Life" and slightly anticipating the "Final Destination" series. But it doesn't exactly display talent deserving better than an Ashton Kutcher and Sean William Scott comedy, which Reitman passed on the same year this short was released. People took notice, however. In March of that year, Indiewire's Anthony Kaufman called it a "delightful calling card" from a filmmaker who has "refined his craft" and "firmly established himself as a comedy director ready to join his father in Hollywood."
"In God We Trust" also won awards from Aspen Shortfest, Austin Film Festival, Florida Film Festival, Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, New York Comedy Festival, Santa Monica Film Festival and Seattle International Film Festival. And it was showcased at New Directors/New Films.
Strangely enough, Reitman's next short, "Gulp," has a kind of "Dude Where's My Car?" moment early on before venturing more into "Run Lola Run" territory. Again, it's pretty good, but not amazing. The 7-minute film, which debuted at Sundance in 2001 (in front of "Wet Hot American Summer") and was produced for Ford Motor Company to showcase the Focus, can be seen below. You'll notice actor Jeff Witzke, a Reitman regular since 1999's "H@" (though he shows no credit for "Young Adult"), again plays a jerk. Videos for both "In God We Trust" and "Gulp" are courtesy of Witzke's Vimeo page.
Finally, skipping over the 2002 film "Uncle Sam," we have Reitman's final short before he went long: 2004's "Consent." Once again Witze has a supporting role, and he's kind of a jerk here too (because all lawyers are jerks, right?). With this film I've decided that Reitman is so much better off working from other people's material. Whether he's directing films written by Diablo Cody or scripting adaptations of novels, he just shouldn't write anything else original on his own. Or with his ex-wife, who came up with the one-note idea for this silly sketch.
Actually, another filmmaker appears to be claiming to have filmed the exact same idea earlier, which isn't so much a matter of plagiarism as it is an easily and obviously devised gag, the sort multiple people could come up with at the same time. Still, the 6-minute work is worth seeing for the Reitman completists.