The love story is really what drives Jason Reitman’s beautifully rendered film Labor Day, which stars Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, from the novel by Joyce Maynard. Structure is key to the whys and hows of the plot. It might baffle a few waiting to see the usual formula unfurl. The timeline in this film is especially important, which you will (hopefully) discover when you see it. Don’t go in expecting Drive.
Reitman has pushed past many of his own limitations here, erasing the snark and the sarcasm. In its place, raw sentimentality that feels inevitable to an artist willing to step outside his comfort zone and take a risk. Both Reitman and Alexander Payne have, this year, really done what is much more difficult than delivering snark. Facing true emotion head-on ain’t easy. Facing the truth about the human experience, harder still.
But Labor Day is not a film, I don’t think, for the usual voices that dominate the film blogging scene. Fans of Reitman’s earlier work will want him to stay in that mode, like the Scorsese fans who only want to see Goodfellas or the Fincher fans who only want to see Fight Club. Reitman has gone beyond his reliance on having a joke for everything, where his characters never have to really feel anything very deeply or for long. That has changed with Labor Day.
If you listen to the dialogue carefully you will hear the novel’s themes and one of them is most definitely love. How do you stop two cars that are headed right for each other when neither person wants to put on the brakes? How do you stop fate?
I want to write a longer review later, but I need to think about the film a little more. I know that I responded to it in ways that don’t quite make sense, and probably are a bit more personal, and maybe even a little dysfunctional. Where labor Day inevitably wants to take me, though, is down the rough road of unlikely, but undeniable, attraction.
I was knocked out by the attention to detail in every frame, not just in bringing alive the late 1980s, but the sensual vibrations of a simple act of digging through freshly cut peaches, working in sugar with your bare hands. I have never before seen Reitman go into such sensual detail in any of his films.
To tell the truth, I’m dreading what the critics are going to make of this movie. Par for the course when critics can make or break an Oscar contender. But I will wager that many of them have no idea how much it turns a woman on to see a man do something as simple as dumping chili fixings into a pan, cooking them up and feeding them to her. Not to mention changing the oil in her car. You know, just saying.
At the beginning of the screening, Reitman said he made the movie not for his father, of whom he speaks often, but instead for his mother. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why.
As for Oscar, since I know you’re all going to be asking about that, it’s tough to say at this juncture. If it were me, Winslet for lead, Brolin for supporting nominations. Screenplay. I’d also go Art Direction. Best Picture seems a sure bet. I’m not sure about Director because the year has not yet played out. But Labor Day joins the ranks of formidable contenders here in Telluride, including Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis and All is Lost.