Meatballs. Space Jam. Kindergarten Cop. Animal House. And above all, Ghostbusters. 

These are just a few of the easy, breezy, morally loose and lighthearted comedy classics either directed by or produced by Canadian film legend Ivan Reitman. I don’t have to introduce or analyze them, because you know them all. You can quote lines from them. These films were memeworthy before memes were a thing. 

Everything about the guy just screams likeability. Reitman was happy to lend some of his middle-to-low-brow cred to more artistically-minded Canadians – he produced Atom Egoyan’s Chloe, and helped David Cronenberg with a couple of his early projects in the ’70s. Kids can – and probably should, these days – watch his films and delight in them. Actors like Bill Murray, Danny DeVito and Sigourney Weaver loved working with him, and years later he helped give birth to the “Frat Pack” comedy explosion with 2003’s Old School. Even SJWs have to build around or subvert the structures he creates rather than trying to tear them down – that’s how you got “Lady Ghostbusters.” 

Most of the time, Reitman doesn’t even bother putting a villain worth hating in his films, because that would get in the way of the laughs. He delights in humiliating prudes and rule-following sticklers like Ghostbusters’ officious bureaucrat Walter Peck, but that’s as dark as he gets. Evil takes the form of a giant Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and a goofy-voiced Vigo the Carpathian, or a bunch of interchangeable Mon-Stars, or a university dean fighting a one-man war on fun. The humour that comes from social criticism or violence is mostly absent. 

Oh, but it gets better. His son, Jason, was the guiding hand behind Thank You For Smoking, which you might recall was based on the book by Christopher Buckley, son of William F. Reitman is also rumoured to be taking over from his father and sitting in the director’s chair for a return-to-form Ghostbusters film down the road. Daughter Catherine contributed her acting talents to Knocked Up, which in turn made Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, and Paul Rudd household names, and appeared in TV comedy staples How I Met Your Mother and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. In her own right, she’s established herself as the creative force behind Workin’ Moms, by far the best thing on Canada’s government broadcaster, the CBC. In, out, and around 

The Reitmans have a serious claim on being the first family of comedy. But – here we are once again in quasi-Letterkenny territory, beyond ideology, beyond consequence, beyond violence or hardship. The Reitman children approach the dark side of lobbying, or of the jobs crisis of the Great Recession in 2008’s Up In The Air (also helmed by Jason), or the modern challenges of motherhood, such as what happens when your husband embraces stay-at-home dad-hood and you completely lose interest in him sexually. Ivan Reitman himself is another son of Holocaust survivors, so he cannot be ignorant of how harsh and brutal life can be. He just chooses not to engage with it the way his fellow Canadian directors do. 

We could criticize Reitman for refusing to engage with the culture war or with the grim side of life, but after the relentlessly downbeat and dour output of Cronenberg, Maddin and Egoyan and the bitterly cold humour of Maddin, a break is in order. We need space to laugh an easy laugh, too. And if the Reitmans’ blithe and beloved comedies end up being the last calm spot in this great culture war of ours, won’t you spare a kind thought and a “thank you” for Canada? 

Next week, we’ll move from behind the camera to in front of it when we profile the great Canadian actors. First on our list is Mary Pickford, one of the original starlets, a pillar of old Hollywood, and, oddly enough, “America’s Sweetheart.”


See the previous installments in the series:

Part 1 on Heroes: ‘Scott Pilgrim Vs The World’ Vs Terrance Denby and ‘Sidequest’

Part 2 on “Humour”: The Libertarian Fantasy of ‘Letterkenny’

Part 3 on Graphic Novel Nihilism: The Harsh Truths of ‘Essex County’

Part 4 on Spawn and Wolverine: Banished From The Promised Land: A Tale of Two Canadian Anti-Heroes

Part 5 on Science Fiction Dystopias: Inside Quebec’s – and Canada’s – Replicant Culture

Part 6 on Animation: The Garrison Mentality: More Than Meets The Eye

Part 7 on Pop Music: How To Build A Successful Canadian Musical Act

Part 8 on Anne of Green Gables and The Traumatized Artist: Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Treacherous Alpine Path

Part 9 on Avoiding the Serious: Mordecai Richler, Montreal, And Gritty Realism

Part 10 on Southern Ontario Gothic: The Marriage of the Mundane and the Fantastic

Part 11 on Margaret Atwood’s Reign of Terror: Literary Tyranny and The Handmaid’s Tale

Part 12 on the First Nations Fraud: Whitewashing Genocide: Truth, Lies, and Joseph Boyden

Part 13 on the inventive Esi Edugyan: A Novel I Cannot Recommend Enough

Part 14 on Generation X Origins: Douglas Coupland And The Hopeful (?) Future Of Canadian (?) Culture

Part 15 on Jordan Peterson Rising: Canadian Culture Creators And The Intellectual Dark Web

Part 16 on The Awkward Quiet: David Cronenberg’s Silent Hell

Part 17 on The Saddest Music In The World: Guy Maddin’s Surrealist Madness

Part 18 on Ararat: Atom Egoyan’s Stammering Grief

Part 19 on Paul Haggis’ Superficial Gloss: Promising More Than He Delivers