Ivan Reitman has died, passing away in his sleep at age 75. And so, a generation mourns. He was the legendary writer, producer and director with as many films to his name as there were years in his life.
Filmmakers come and go but few define an era, and when we think of comedy in the eighties there are only a handful of directors whose stamp on cinema influenced a generation. They are titans of Hollywood who are masters of their craft, and amongst them is Reitman, the man whose “genius” was etched into Australian lore thanks to the comedic musings of The Late Show‘s Tony Martin.
Although instinct has us turning to Ghostbusters, the film which solidified his place in the pantheon of greats, his mark was made well before that. Following his directorial debut Foxy Lady in 1971, he made Cannibal Girls in ’73 before producing the seminal cult classic Animal House in ’78 (a movie which remains the benchmark for all frat-house movies since). He followed that up with Meatballs in ’79 and Stripes in ’81 – both, again, being tentpole examples of their sub-genres.
Then came Ghostbusters and the rest, as they say, is history. If Meatballs and Stripes gave Reitman an open door to Hollywood, Ghostbusters gave him the key. With quick succession, he churned out a prolific string of titles that carried him through the 80s and into the 90s. He directed Legal Eagles, Twins, Ghostbusters 2, Kindergarten Cop, Junior, and Dave, while producing titles like Heavy Metal, Spacehunter, Big Shots, Beethoven, and Space Jam.
Of course, there were the less successful movies too, like Father’s Day, Six Days Seven Nights, and Evolution (to name just some). While these titles may have their fans, they were poorly received by critics and movie-goers alike at the time of release, and yet in retrospect, they feel uniquely Reitman. His brand was “situational concept” comedy and his movies explored unconventional and extraordinary circumstances. Whether it’s a bloke getting pregnant (Junior), a hardened cop playing pre-school teacher (Kindergarten Cop), or hysterically mismatched twin brothers (Twins), he was fascinated by “what if” and “imagine this” scenarios.
As a director, the profligacy of his work wasn’t quite up to his high standards over the past 15 years and the three titles he did deliver – My Super Ex-Girlfriend, No Strings Attached and Draft Day – arguably failed to resonate on the level many knew him for. And yet, as a producer, he was pumping out one banger after another, with movies like Disturbia, Old School, Up in the Air and Hitchcock amongst the many.
And how fitting that his most personal film to date – Ghostbusters: Afterlife – would mark his final theatrical release, and with his son, Jason Reitman, at the helm. It was a true family affair and a passing of the key from father to son, and although the film was very much a tribute to the late great Harold Ramis, it now has an added veil of endearment.
Comedy in the eighties was defined by a select few and Ivan Reitman has taken his seat beside his friends and fellow titans, John Hughes and Harold Ramis. Reitman helped shape an era with a relatable and earnest brand of comedy that put everyday people in extraordinary situations. And while fans around the world may have heavy hearts following his passing, let us all take this time to celebrate, to forage his catalogue and revisit some classics. And perhaps we should dig up some of those less popular titles for reevaluation. After all, there is something special in everything he made.