Director Jason Reitman is back with Men, Women and Children – a film featuring every type of modern consumer technology that you can think of. But as with his other films – Thank You For Smoking, Juno and Up In The Air amongst them – what the film appears to be about isn’t actually the point. Men Women and Children, featuring a cast including Adam Sandler, Ansel Elgort and Jennifer Garner, is about people, relationships, secrets and lies.
He sat down with Pure Movies editor Dan Higgins to talk about technology, Gone Girl, Black Mirror and Ghostbusters!
Is technology ruining everyone’s lives or changing the world for the better?
Jason Reitman: C’mon, who can possibly sit there and say they know for certain that technology is doing good or bad? Fifty years from now we’ll look back and have some sort of perspective on how technology changed us but the fact is you have a generation like mine which is the last generation to grow up without the internet, and then you have the generation just behind me – like these kids, who are 15 years younger than me but they might as well be a hundred years younger than me – because the world they grew up in doesn’t even resemble the one I did. There wasn’t a time before the internet to them, it’s like the world before and after 9/11.
Technology has been a central theme in a lot of films and TV shows over the past few years. Have you seen Black Mirror?
I love Black Mirror. It’s very hard to get in the US by the way. Oh my god, it’s the only thing I’ve ever stolen to watch. You just can’t get it. And also some British people don’t even know about Black Mirror. I bring up Black Mirror all the time when I’m here thinking “Hey, Black Mirror, I’m hip” and they’re like “What are you talking about?” I can’t wait to see the new one with John Hamm. I love the first six and I can’t pick a favourite.
So technology TV shows and films have already hit a critical mass, why did you choose to make this film at this point in time?
Frankly, I didn’t even consider I was making a film about technology. When I was doing Juno, I was only getting questions about pregnancy and abortion. And when I did Thank You For Smoking and all the questions were about cigarettes. That’s not what I made those movies about. That’s been the irony of this film is that every question is about technology. And I don’t know what that says about this moment.
What I’m interested in is people, intimacy, relationships, communications, secrets, lying. These are the things that I’m interested in and that’s what I made the movie about, that’s what the book was about. But it takes place in 2014 and in 2014 the only way to portray people accurately is to have them constantly on their phones.
Yes, with very specific ringtones and apps, it’s almost a timestamp. Did it ever enter your thinking that when people look back on this film, it’s something that will be immediately dated?
I like that idea. This is 2014 right now. But all of my films have kind of been like that. Juno was of that moment. Up in the Air was of that moment. Thank You For Smoking was of that moment. Juno looks incredibly dated now; the high school experience is vintage, it’s antiquated. I visited this high school to shoot this movie in Texas and I’m walking through the hallway and I said “something is really unusual” and someone said “there’s no lockers”. I said “Why are there no lockers?” and they said “Because there’s no books!” I’ve basically gone from hamburger phone to cellphone in eight years.
Did you ever worry about how the text message overlay technique you utilise would come across?
It was during while we were writing it became clear we had to find a methodology, we can’t just keep cutting to a screen and, with this movie, that’s all I’d be doing. I needed a way to keep that interaction interesting and also, frankly, make it resemble how you look at your own devices.
When you’re on your computer, you don’t have one app open; you have your music app open, you have your email open, you have a website open, you have something you’re writing going, maybe you have a game, maybe you’ve got Facebook in it’s own window and you have a desktop image behind it and a whole bunch of fucking icons because you have a dirty desktop so all of this stuff is going on simultaneously and we track it. We’re skyping someone and IMing someone else and someone on Skype asks you a question so you quickly go online and look up an answer, you know, we’re so use to multitasking that it only makes sense that the filmplay resembles that.
How did you find directing Adam Sandler in a more serious role?
A delight! Every director says that but that’s the actual truth. Adam had so many questions before we made the movie. This is a movie that opens with him using his 15-year-old son’s computer to masturbate and it ends with him having a very tough, ambiguous conversation with his wife about honesty. So, I cant imagine two tougher scenes for an actor to do as an adult but, as soon as he said yes, he was 100 per cent in, so committed, never scared and was lovely about everything. He’d bring up ideas from the book and stuff. He was very supportive.
And at what point did you think “we’re going to cast Emma Thompson as the voiceover”?
Early on, Aaron [co-screenwriter] and I would talk about who the voice of the narrator was and they had to be really smart and have this global point of view, but also dirty and the ability to be naughty. And we quickly zeroed in on Emma Thompson as being that voice, being able to be intelligent but a little wicked as well and we would just impersonate her as we were writing. And so then it was like “God, I really hope she says yes!” because we had no second choice. We couldn’t think of anyone who could possibly do that if we couldn’t get her.
Would you do a new Star Wars movie without Han and Leia and Luke? No. Would you make a Ghostbusters movie without Brownstone Boy #2? Fuck no!
Have you seen Gone Girl?
Well it’s really weird because I only saw the movie yesterday in Leicester Square. I went to see it 1 o’clock, great screening, loved the movie. And I go to my BAFTA Q&A last night and the audience is coming out, I’m about to walk in and this beautiful woman waves at me and I’m like “Oh fuck! It’s Amazing Amy! God that woman looks exactly like Amazing Amy” and then later I get an email and it was Rosamund Pike who was in the screening and I didn’t recognise her, I thought I was hallucinating. I thought “Jesus, this movie has fucked with my brain so much that I’m seeing this woman in real life.”
So, when we spoke previously, you discussed the shortage of women’s roles in Hollywood and how you were trying to correct that with Juno and Up in the Air. Have you been following the reaction around Gone Girl in relation to its portrayal of gender stereotypes?
No I’m new to this conversation and it’s a fascinating one because Kim Dickens who plays the Head of Police is a fantastic female character. So the real question is: does Amazing Amy represent Amazing Amy or does she represent women as a gender and that’s always the question, right? My producer Helen Estabrook brought up a point that because they make the decision to speak about marriage globally, it forces you to think that Ben Affleck represents men globally and Rosamund Pike represents women globally but I don’t know. I took it as a great thriller and, to be honest, I never read the book so I think there must be a divide between people who have and haven’t read the book because I’m so floored by the story. I had no idea what was going to happen. Frankly, I was so thrilled by the story that I really wasn’t thinking about politics as I was watching.
Can I just ask, does she go back to the house in the book?
Yes. Apart from she doesn’t go on a TV show to reveal she’s pregnant in the book, there were memoirs, and she freezes some vomit or something of that nature so she can frame him…
Wait. How does she get pregnant? I didn’t understand that.
She had frozen his sperm…
Where did she get his sperm?
There was a letter he got where his sperm count was going down so he froze his sperm earlier in the film.
Right. Got it.
Anyway, what do you feel about the reboot of Ghostbusters, the all-woman cast, and do you feel any ownership over that?
I’ll tell you why it’s an interesting moment for me. My daughter is seven years old and I just showed her Ghostbusters for the first time, it was the thirtieth anniversary so it was playing in theatres and she watched the movie. And everyone in her class had seen the movie…erm, how old are you?
So you were born in ’86. My daughter was born in 2006. So, this is a movie that came out 22 years before she was born. Can you think of a movie that came out 22 years before you were born in 1964 that were popular when you were seven?
Well I guess it would just be Disney films…
Right, same with me. So I am 37. This would have to be a film that came out in the early 50s; it doesn’t exist. Maybe except for The Wizard of Oz. So the idea that my daughter and everyone her age knows Ghostbusters and knows it well, is fascinating.
Afterwards, I put her on the phone to my father and said: “Hey Dad, Josie just saw Ghostbusters” and I hand my phone to my seven year old daughter and she is talking to her 67 year old grandfather who made the movie and she’s asking him all these questions: “How did they do Slimer? How did they do the marshmallow man?” Boom boom, one after the other.
So Ghostbusters lives in a similar world to Star Wars as far as the first movie is important but the universe is almost more important. So I think it’s exciting Paul Feig is making the movie and that’s it going to be all women. I’m excited to see what other directors will do in the world of Ghostbusters one day. And while my connection is to the first film, at this point there is now a heritage that will continue beyond my father’s life, beyond my life and that’s what’s interesting to me.
You wont be reprising your role as…
…Brownstone Boy #2? I mean, I think I should right? It seems only appropriate. That character’s storyline is way too important to the franchise. Would you do a new Star Wars movie without Han and Leia and Luke? No. Would you make a Ghostbusters movie without Brownstone Boy #2? Fuck no!
Men, Women and Children is out now in cinemas everywhere.