Labor Day: Reitman’s most heartfelt film?

20131103-LYALL-slide-7RAH-articleLarge As a director, Jason Reitman appears to be growing up fast. Labor Day is the fifth feature length film he’s given us and his progression as a storyteller is clear to see.

This film, set in a sleepy suburban American town in 1987, tells the story of Henry (Gattlin Griffith) and his mother Adele (Kate Winslet) whose life is gatecrashed by escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin) in a supermarket at the start of Labor Day weekend. He effectively holds them hostage, at least initially, until the coast is clear. Yet what then develops is a complex relationship between the three of them that is both tender, affecting and very human.

With Reitman pulling the strings – the man behind Juno and Up In The Air – you’d expect snappy dialogue and snazzy, snarky characters.labor-day-review-9 Here he strips the story right back and the majority of the film is told in looks and glances, eyes darting back and forth as characters try to figure each other out.

As Reitman is a wonderful observer of human interaction, this perfectly plays to his strengths and no doubt tested both himself and his cast. The two leads, Brolin and Winslet, rose to the challenge like masters at work. The film is warm in tone too. Set in the late ’80s the whole thing appears bathed in the golden glow of late summer. Like one happy memory. It’s not all sweetness and light though. The whole film is tinged with sadness, loneliness and loss.

If you take Reitman’s last two films (Young Adult and Up In The Air) there’s a strong sense of loneliness in both the main characters: Charlize Theron’s Mavis Gary and George Clooney’s Ryan Bingham – they’re both searching for a genuine human connection. labor-day-movie-picture-2Here Winslet’s character continues that theme with possibly the most convincing performance of one of Reitman’s leads.

Apparently he wrote the script specifically with her in mind and kept the film on hold until the actress was available. You can see why too, it’s a compelling performance from Winslet, one of her best since 2008 when she won awards for The Reader and Revolutionary Road. Ultimately this film represents a shift of gears for Reitman, and indeed perhaps a more mature direction. He’s drawn brilliant performances out the cast – Winslet in particular – and created a piece of work that is both moving, well observed, nostalgic and highly engaging.

Can’t wait to see what he does next.

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