By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
In its general flight plan, Reitman’s life so far might easily be mistaken for a stereotypical second-generation Hollywood legacy case. The oldest of three children born to Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman and actress Geneviève Deloir, he came of age on his father’s film sets, from a visit to the Oregon location of Animal House (which the senior Reitman produced) when he was 11 days old, to a summer job as a production assistant on the Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy Kindergarten Cop when he was 13. In those same years, Reitman rubbed elbows with other scions of the rich and famous at the prestigious Buckley and Harvard-Westlake prep schools, where, he claims, being the son of one of the most successful filmmakers of the 1980s brought him nothing but grief. “I was never a popular kid,” he recalls. “I know people say that all the time, so let me repeat: I was never a popular kid. I was not well-liked. All the movie thing brought was teasing and mockery. It never seemed something to be proud of.”
More paralyzing for Reitman was the fear of following in his father’s footsteps. “I knew the presumption of who I was,” he says. “If you think, ‘son of a famous director,’ your immediate reaction is: no talent. Spoiled brat. Drug or alcohol problem. These are the going ideas. In addition to that, one of two things is going to happen to me in my career — either I will succeed but live in my father’s shadow, or I will fail on a very public level. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I gave it a shot, it didn’t work out, and nobody knows.’ You go for it, everyone takes a look at it and goes, ‘God, you are bad.’ ” So he halfheartedly enrolled at Skidmore College as a pre-med student. By the end of his first semester, Reitman’s dad had convinced him to hang up his scrubs and give movies a try.
He proceeded with caution, transferring to the University of Southern California — not for the celebrated film school, as might have been expected, but rather as an English major with a creative-writing emphasis. Even then, there were those who saw their classmate as a potential meal ticket. “I remember hearing from a friend that someone in the film school had said, ‘We’ve got to get him into the film school, because he’s going to hook all of us up,’ ” says Reitman with palpable disgust. “I heard that and I went, ‘Oh, God.’ If I’d ever even thought about majoring in film, that was it. I decided: I’m going to be an English major and I’m going to make it on my own. I’m not going to change my name; I don’t need to lie to people. I am who I am.”
In the interest of full disclosure, this writer may have had his own ill-formed preconceptions about Reitman, when, in the fall of 1996, he showed up in my office at USC’s Daily Trojan newspaper, where I was the film-section editor, asking if he could write some movie reviews. I agreed, and over the course of the semester Reitman published his appraisals of Jerry Maguire, the Wachowski brothers’ Bound and Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do!, although it was another actor’s directorial debut, Matthew Broderick’s little-seen biopic of Nobel Prize–winning physicist Richard Feynman, Infinity, that yielded this memorable opener: “Finally someone has made a good film.” (At the author’s request, I will quote no further.) Reitman’s tenure at the Trojan was brief. He was already starting to formulate his first short films, and what I remember most about those days is how stubbornly intent he was on raising the money himself — first by selling desk calendars and, later, bracelets he designed with his girlfriend at the time. No legacy case he.
In a way, I suggest to Reitman, his movie career might be the product of a prolonged adolescent rebellion: the Beverly Hills “townie” who points his camera, without condescending affect, on the flatlands of the Middle West; the son of one of the industry’s ultimate “high-concept” directors, determined to make small, character-driven movies that pose existential questions and peddle no easy answers? “I guess I’ll say this,” he answers after a considered pause. “My father is the child of Holocaust survivors who escaped Communist Czechoslovakia in the bottom of a boat. They wound up in Canada as refugees. My grandfather ran a car wash and a dry cleaner’s. So it’s no wonder that my father wants to make movies that just make people happy, where you walk out feeling better about life than when you walked in. It’s much easier to be a satirist when you grow up in Beverly Hills and never worry where your next meal is coming from; it’s much easier to sit there and talk about how complicated life is and not really worry about whether your characters are likable.”
Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city