Smooth landing for Reitman's 'Air'

Pic bows in Toronto to warm response

TORONTO -- One of Paramount's big fall hopes unspooled in Toronto Saturday to a high warm reaction that sets the movie as one of the awards-season's early frontrunners.

"Up in the Air," Jason Reitman's frequent-flyer dramedy starring a charming but vulnerable George Clooney, hit nearly all the right notes at its premiere at the Ryerson Theatre.

Based on Walter Kirn's novel, Reitman's pic tells the story of a jetsetting corporate downsizer whose only connections are the kind you make at airports. It centers on both the fortysomething drifter and, to a lesser degree, the largely Middle American, middle-aged people he fires.

But despite the older-skewing elements, the reaction of the heavily twenty- and thirtysomething urbane audience was intensely enthusiastic.

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Toronto's Ryerson, on the city's campus of the same name, is generally reserved for younger-oriented fare (it's the site of the fest's Midnight Madness program), but Reitman said he wanted to screen the movie here. "They wanted to give us a gala. But I said, 'I'll take the Ryerson with the real film fans,' " he said to loud cheers.

The venue proved a charm for "Slumdog Millionaire," a movie that also contains both dramatic and feel good elements and that in part began its awards-season run at the festival last year.

This pic's hybrid status as an entertaining confection that nonetheless features a number of downbeat moments -- "It's not an indie movie and it's not a mainstream movie," Reitman said -- could face a few marketing hurdles as it aims for a broad audience.

But the movie's comedy resonated with the festival audience.

And the film's marketing strategy began to emerge over the course of both a press conference and the screening, where it was positioned as a layoff story that, also like "Slumdog, reflects difficult social realities, but gently and with doses of humor.

At the press conference, reporters asked and talent responded with stories of layoffs and firings.

"This is a film that's not about job loss but it touches on it," Reitman said, in one of several comments on the subject. "My only (prior) experience was ... with percentages and numbers. In making this film I was confronted with the heart of it."

Reitman spoke of how he shot footage from real people who were laid off -- he put classified ads in papers in Midwestern cities saying he was making a documentary -- and found the results "heartbreaking."

And Clooney and co-star Jason Bateman each offered thoughts about getting fired (from TV shows).

The movie, which Par opens in early December, also is likely to draw attention because of apparent similarities between Clooney's globetrotting bachelor Ryan Bingham and the man who plays him.

After the actor deflected a question about the parallels with a quippy "We're both the same height," Reitman didn't let him off the hook so easily. "The first time you read it you said you see connections," Reitman said.