Jason Reitman finds honesty in comedy

By Miranda Manier

Director Jason Reitman has been around the block a couple times.

A four-time Academy Award nominee for his work on “Juno” and “Up in the Air,” Reitman has explored the stories of misfits and characters down on their luck. His most recent film, “Tully,” starring Charlize Theron, opened in theaters May 4. “Tully” is a brutally honest look at the struggles of a mother following the birth of her third child. It is well-paced and engaging, drawing viewers into the throes of a flatlined marriage and a family that fights to function every day. 

The Chronicle spoke with Reitman about “Tully” and how it fits into his portfolio of work.

Motherhood is a theme in “Juno” and “Tully.” How did you approch that differently in the films? 

JASON REITMAN: I’ve always thought that teen pregnancy [in “Juno”] was a location to discuss the larger idea of, “What is the moment where we grow up?” Here we have a movie about a 16– year-old girl who’s grown up too fast, a 30-year-old guy who’s not even growing up, and that theme is continued through all three films.

“Young Adult” is about growing up too slowly, and this one is about that moment when you have a child and you are forced to close a chapter on part of your life so your child can then occupy that space. 

We always feel like we’re too young for something, or we’re too old for something, or we missed the boat to something.[Writer] Diablo [Cody] and I are re-examining that theme at different crucial moments in life. 

How do you go about making something as serious as the subject matter in “Tully”  a comedy?

It’s point of view, and what you find funny. I guess I find certain things funny that other people don’t. From the outset of my career, I wanted to make money, heroizing the head lobbyist of big tobacco,  [“Thank You for Smoking”]; a pregnant teenage girl, [“Juno”]; a guy who fires people for a living, [“Up in the Air”]; and then a woman who’s trying to end someone’s marriage [“Young Adult”].

These are my heroes. I always find that humor is a way to get to the truth a lot faster. Dramas dance around it, [but] comedy allows you to be honest right from the get-go. 

Real and honest depictions of pregnancy are so rare in film. Why did you make a point of including the ugliness that is   often avoided?

There’s something about parenting that’s just taboo. We talk about everything these days. We’re so open about what’s wrong with us, our dating lives and what medication we’re taking. We share everything now, yet parenting is still taboo.

We do not talk about how tough, scary and alone being a parent can feel. We do it in a slapstick way in movies, where you have a dad pick up a baby and a baby pees on him, but you don’t have the real stuff, and the real stuff is being alone in the middle of the night and feeling terrified. Feeling like you’re ruining your kid’s life. People don’t share that.

I thought it was particularly brave for Diablo to write a script that gave us the details, and I can’t pretend to know that stuff. I relied on her and Charlize’s expertise because I don’t know that stuff. I’m a dude. [To an extent,] I was a passenger in the car for this.