After watching Up In the Air, I decided that it was time I waded through the earlier works of Jason Reitman, in the short film style, to see if the spark and spunk that embody his feature films were always evident. After scouring YouTube in various permutations and combinations, I managed to find three of the six films listed on IMDb. If anyone has H@, Uncle Sam, and/or Operation, please drop me a line or send me a link, because that would about complete my Reitman filmography. I was already an ardent fan of his work on my favourite show, The Office. Anyhoo, the three films I did watch were Gulp, In God We Trust, and Consent.
I’m going to start with Consent. In terms of execution and style the most evolved of Reitman’s short films, it clearly displays the sardonic voice that distinguishes his feature films as well. The plot of Consent is simple: a boy and girl are fooling around in bed and before they go further, seek mutual consent for all the forthcoming activities. How Reitman makes this hilarious with the trademark dry humour best witnessed in his most clever film, Thank You for Smoking, is what makes this interesting. A good film, especially of the very short variety, needs that knockout punch at the end, and Reitman clearly delivers. His cast also does a fine job, albeit a little raw around the edges. I would say this was the best indicator of the kind of feature filmmaker he would go on to become.
Coming now to Gulp, clearly a misfire that tries so hard to be funny that it just isn’t. In this film, Reitman tells the story of a guy who realizes he has unwittingly put his fish’s life in jeopardy by placing it in fresh water. Perhaps this was meant to be funny in that incredible way The Hangover made a mark, but somehow watching a guy run around town to save a fish he apparently loves, and yet doesn’t know well enough to keep in salt water, just didn’t cut it. In an age in which Twilight became a phenomenon, at best it's a sad sad display of how silly the New Age American post-teen can be, and that doesn’t make me laugh.
Finally, we come to the film that had me conflicted, but not quite disappointed. In God We Trust, a slightly long short film, clocking in at close to 17 minutes, is in equal parts an important film for Reitman and yet not quite all that it could be. The story is a traditional heaven vs. hell one, with a points system that decides a dead person’s fate. He adds an interesting technological twist to the proceedings, and follows the transition of a man who manages to escape back to Earth after being sentenced to an eternity in Hell with a -198 scorecard. It’s interesting to note the parallels between this film and Up In the Air with Reitman’s preoccupation with points in both storylines. Though definitely entertaining, there is a certain predictability that comes with this plot that keeps it from being fantastic.
So there you have it. I’m still only halfway through the short films of Jason Reitman, and even though I could never see these competing for an Academy Award alongside such gems as Martin McDonagh’s Six Shooter, they are nevertheless thoroughly entertaining and worthy precursors to Reitman’s much more refined works as a feature filmmaker. Most importantly, they’re interesting to watch as a study of a transition of sensibilities over the years. I’m going to grade these films collectively, because they come together from a common fibre, and also because I think you don’t need a grade to help you determine whether or not to watch a four-minute film. When you have a free moment, you know the answer is yes.