Tag Archives: Jason Reitman

Crossroads: Cinematic Convergence and Up in the Air

Crossroads: Cinematic Convergence and Up in the Air

December 29th, 2009

One of the joys of fictional narratives is that writers have free rein to start their story at any point in their characters’ lives. Unless we’re literally following a character from the time of their birth to the time of their death, there are parts of their stories that are simply not going to be told; instead, writers will select a particular time to pick up a character’s story that feels the most cinematic, or pressing, or engaging.

Television is at a distinct advantage in this area when compared with film, in that it is able to pick up multiple moments over the course of multiple seasons. Mad Men has made a business of using time shifts in order to find Don Draper amidst particular historical periods, while a show like Weeds fastforwarded its heroine’s pregnancy in an effort to streamline its position in the narrative. This is plausible, even desirable, because the lengthy runs of television shows allow them to create their own past, present and future – the narrative becomes longer and the moments become more plentiful and the characters’ lives become augmented by their lives as it relates to our experience (measured in seasons as opposed to years).

But with cinema, at least with those films which aren’t part of a broader franchise or serving as a sequel, there is an expectation that things will largely standalone. You will meet a set of characters at a particular point in their lives, and you will follow those characters for as long the writer intends for you to do so. And that’s sort of what I find fascinating about Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, a film where we meet a variety of characters at a definitely cinematic point in their lives. It is a film where we meet those at a crossroads in their lives, and one which is far less interested in how they got to this point than it is interested in what they’re going to do now that they’re here.

And in terms of finding a strong narrative of self-realization and life choices, Reitman has picked the right moment: it has also, however, led to some very strong negative reactions to the film from those who were expected a more indepth investigation into any one of the story’s various elements.

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The Office – “Frame Toby”

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“Frame Toby”

November 20th, 2008

Michael Scott is not a heartless man – he may hate Toby with every fibre of his being, and he may act as if his return is in fact a 911 emergency, but this does not mean that Michael is a terrible person. Under the circumstances, it makes perfect sense that Toby (Paul Lieberstein) returning would make Michael upset: he didn’t know he was there for a week because he refuses to go into the annex because “that’s where Holly worked,” and his most hated person replacing the person he loved would be highly problematic for anyone, yet alone someone as devoid of stability as Michael.

What works about “Frame Toby” (Michael’s initial reaction to his return, Dwight’s contribution to the eponymous effort, the conclusion of that particular story arc) works fine, but it felt like there was a bigger story here. The last time Michael was this adversarial with a co-worked was in “Goodbye, Stanley,” an episode where Michael finally came to his senses at episode’s end and he and Stanley actually talked out their differences. One of those scenes here could have gone a long way to formalizing Michael’s Holly issues, but the episode never goes there; instead, it spends a bit too much time on Pam’s non-triumphant return to the office, and never quite feels like a cohesive episode or something that adds to the existing mythology of this epic feud.

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