Thank You For Smoking
is a surprisingly good film. But then, even the title is designed to upset expectations. No matter who you are, or how much you hate the smell of a freshly lit Marlboro, you are most likely tired of the condescending anti-smoking message that you are barraged with on a daily basis. Thank You For Smoking
is the antidote for that message, a gleeful little piece of nihilism from first time director Jason Reitman and one of the smartest, liveliest comedies to come along in a while.
The film follows the wheeling and dealing of the wonderfully named Nick Naylor, the mouth-piece for fictional corporation National Tobacco, a man who shills poison for a living and is damn good at it. The question on which the film rests is, Could the best salesman in the world sell ice to Eskimos if the Eskimos know the ice was poisonous? The answer, apparently, is yes. At one point in the film Nick brags to his friends that he is so good at selling his product that it kills the equivalent of two jumbo jetliners full of people every day.
You're probably wondering how a movie with such a massive prick at its center could be funny. Well, the film does a very smart thing in casting Aaron Eckhart as the massive prick in question. In his hands, Naylor' lively intelligence and indomitable spirit don't come off cynical as much as all-American.
starts out with Naylor appearing on Joan Lunden' daytime talk show, sitting on stage with a liberal anti-smoking advocate and a young cancer patient. Any child of the 90s will recognize this as an Indiana Jones opening-starting the film with the protagonist in very dangerous territory. Over an uproarious five minutes, Nick manages to turn the studio audience, the cancer patient and even the movie theater audience against the liberal activist by arguing that if, God forbid, the cancer patient dies, the anti-smoking advocate will be pleased to gain a statistic whereas Nick will be devastated to lose a loyal customer. In a lesser film, the laugh would come from the fact that the studio audience is so easily duped, but Reitman smartly plays the scene straight, placing the laugh on the fact that Nick
so damn persuasive.
From here we move on to an even tougher scenario: career day at his son' school. As Nick enters, his son whispers, "Please don't ruin my life." The comedic premise in this scene is that Nick tackles the kids' questions with the same intensity and seriousness that he did on the talk show, asking one little girl for scientific evidence to back up her mother' claim that cigarettes kill, and criticizing the children' blind faith in everything that science tells them. Naylor isn't a man who is forced to do an evil job, he is a man who loves his job so much that he can't help but throw himself headfirst into it at every opportunity he gets.