London Film Festival
I’ve made no effort to hide my love of writer/director Jason Reitman. With each of his first four films, I’ve been impressed with his ability to push himself in terms of tone, characterization, and style. Reitman is the first director that I have followed critically since the beginning of his career, and I have truly enjoyed watching him evolve before my eyes.
His fifth feature, an adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel “Labor Day,” shows perhaps the biggest stride in his visual storytelling to date. The film boasts impressive atmospheric editing with some eerie impressionistic flashbacks. His sets and staging seem much more delicately composed here, as does the cinematography.
Yet with this step forward, the bedrock of his past films – the characters and the script – take two big steps back. The narrative is essentially stillborn, providing us with three high-strung characters but little accompanying plot tension.
“Labor Day” is an odd fit for Reitman’s talents as shown by his previous films, although it’s hard to fault a director willing to go this far out of their comfort zone. The story follows the odd events in 1987 that unfold when the withdrawn Adele (Kate Winslet) takes her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) to the grocery store … and they come back home with the escaped convict Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin). At first, they appear to be his hostages, but Frank and Adele fall into an odd romance that soothes the sores of their troubled pasts.
Even when brought to life by acclaimed talents Winslet and Brolin, the characters of “Labor Day” feel rather broad, and the film’s emotional distance keeps them at arm’s length as well. Our entry point into the film is Henry, the narrator and protagonist, but he’s like an even more passive Nick Carraway. (Ironically, Tobey Maguire plays an older version of Henry.)
So while “Labor Day” might have its fair share of faults, it’s certainly not a death knell for Reitman. It certainly shows many opportunities for growth and improvement for the director, but at least he has gone out on a limb and made a bold move against complicity. It’s comforting to know that some Academy Award nominated filmmakers can fight against banality, and hopefully Reitman’s skills catch up with his ambition soon. B- /