Reitman’s Film Doesn’t Work

Jason Reitman‘s Labor Day (Paramount, 12.25) is a decently crafted, amber-lighted period drama, based on the 2009 Joyce Maynard book and set during the Labor Day holiday of 1987, about…well, it’s pretty hard to put into a succinct sentence. It begins as a kind of home invasion situation that isn’t quite a hostage or kidnapping thing. It’s a family love story of sorts mixed with a criminal-hiding-out-in-the-home-of-a-single-neurotic-mom-and-her-son story. A spin on a yarn that sinks in every so often. It has a current of sincerity. It tries to do the right thing.

But Labor Day is also about how a 13 year-old boy (played by Gattlin Griffith) can, in a movie like this, turn into a slightly larger alien with CG eyes when he turns 16 or 17, and then reverse course and shrink into Tobey Maguire when he reaches maturity. It’s a horrible third-act miscalculation, and already I’ve been called a dick for mentioning this.

Josh Brolin is the convict and Kate Winlset is the mom. But it’s clear early on that Brolin is the gentle nurturing type who’s looking for a little love (and who isn’t?) and that Winslet misses the company of a good man. So before long the film has turned into Escaped Convict Knows Best (And He Sure Can Cook A Pie!). But it’s one of those films that are driven by a backstory that happened in the past, and that kind of thing irritates me. Or it did today at least.

Brolin delivers his best performance since No Country For Old Men, but — I’m sorry but this has to be said — Reitman’s movie isn’t very satisfying. It doesn’t get it. It’s not a catastrophe but it felt to me like a sensitive humanist misfire.

There was a vibe in the room as Labor Day ended at the Chuck Jones Theatre. The vibe said “hmmm…okay, that happened.” If people like a film they stay in their seats and watch the credits and smile and share their enthusiasm in the lobby. I noticed a lot of people in my area of the theatre bolting as soon as it was over and people generally avoiding conversation and/or talking about stuff other than the film.

But the real truth always comes out on the gondola ride down. Everybody in my gondola was down on Labor Day. And yet every person in Sasha Stone‘s gondola was fairly happy with it. So my gondola just happened to be filled with mean, snarly, judgmental shitheads and Sasha’s just happened to be filled with generous-hearted alpha people who wanted only to understand and “get it” and show the love. Do we pick our gondola-ride partners? Do people say, “I want to ride with that group over there because I didn’t like the film and it looks like they didn’t either”? Or do gondola-riders lie a little bit about how much they liked or were okay with a film? I think my gondola crew was being more honest than Sasha’s, but let’s see how it shakes out.

  • DuluozRedux

    Reitman has yet to make a decent film. How this silver spoon USC dickhead is considered elite is beyond me. I’ll take his father any day over him.

    • DiscoNap

      That’s asinine trolling, and this is coming from someone who pretty much hates Up in the Air.

      • DuluozRedux

        Name me one good film the boy has done. One.

        Thank You For Smoking was wink wink crap that was dated before it even got to the screen.

        Juno was cutesy, wink wink crap with a dollop of drama thrown in awkwardly. Total crap.

        Up in the Air was so boring it was unwatchable. After an hour I had to turn off the screener. It was awful, and again, very very dated. Anna Kendrick needs to go away. Such a drama student, like Anne Hathaway. Annoying as fuck.

        Young Adult was more wink wink crap with bad performances and obvious contrivances. I love Charlize Theron, but even she couldn’t save this stinker. And any film with a prominent role for Patton Oswalt is terrible, by definition.

        If the guy’s last name was Jones, not only would we never have heard of him, he never would have made a feature in the first place. Some kids of famous talented people are actually talented, like Michael Douglas, but most are not, like Sofia Coppola.

        • Deliox

          Marie Antoinette is the most visionary film of the 2000s after Mulholland Dr. and The New World; and The Virgin Suicides is quite good. Juno is underwhelming as hell, but Up In The Air was fine.

          • DuluozRedux

            Define “visionary.”

        • Raising_Kaned

          Counterpoint: Duncan Jones.

          Game, set, match…Nevele.

        • Raising_Kaned

          Oswalt’s role prob. cut a little too close to the bone (which, admittedly, is a lot of cutting in his case) for our jovial, well-adjusted to the real-world friend Duluoz.

          • Brian Bouton

            If he thinks Winslet looks like a man, he likely mistook Oswalt for a beautiful young starlet during the nude scene.

        • erniesouchak

          I am with you.

          • DuluozRedux

            Thanks man. I’m actually amazed at how many people here love Reitman and his below average films.

            • http://nevermindpopfilm.blogspot.com/ Colin Biggs

              You shouldn’t be surprised. You hate movies.

              • DuluozRedux

                I hate bad movies. Not my fault your taste is shit.

                • http://nevermindpopfilm.blogspot.com/ Colin Biggs

                  All movies. You hate all movies. In fact I think this is the first time you’ve gone without referencing politics in all your time here.

                  • DuluozRedux

                    “All movies. You hate all movies. In fact I think this is the first time
                    you’ve gone without referencing politics in all your time here.”

                    Sure thing, sugar. Next time, try paying attention.

                    • http://nevermindpopfilm.blogspot.com/ Colin Biggs

                      Hey, whatever keeps your focus off of demeaning women.

    • http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/ Jeffrey Wells

      “Yet to make a decent film”? That’s an absurd thing to say…c ‘mon.

    • moviewatcher

      Listen up, dickhead, Reitman has made more than decent films. Juno was good, though not terrible thought-provoking and Up in the Air was a very good movie. A great premise very well executed with an all around wonderful cast.

    • Steven Kaye

      While I don’t think Reitman is a bad filmmaker, he isn’t a good one, either. He’s just there, producing colourless pablum. The fact that so many Oscar prognosticators were so quick to list Labor Day as a Best Picture contender simply because it’s a Jason Reitman film just shows how utterly debased their collective taste has become.

      • DuluozRedux

        Another voice of reason cuts through the din of mediocrity at HE. Kudos.

  • Raising_Kaned

    It sounds like the two groups don’t park their gondolas in the same…gondola dock?

    • DuluozRedux

      Dude, enough with the schtick. Not even The Nevele or Kutsher’s would hire your ass.

      • http://jessecrall.wordpress.com/ Jesse Crall

        But things are going great for our main man Duluoz! Why, just last week Ranger Rick hired him to write captions for animal photos. On one shot featuring a sleeping possum, he wrote “Looks like someone’s…playing possum!” Gold.

        • DuluozRedux

          And of course we get HE’s most boring, vanilla commenter chiming in for his good old buddy. Why am I not surprised that you two guys usually end up in your own conversation here all the time.

          • Browncoat

            Itching for another banning? It’s much easier with Disqus, so you won’t have to wait long.

      • Raising_Kaned

        Thom Phoolery says…

        Kutsher as Steve Jobs was an absolute train wreck.

  • Gautam Anand

    You are funny, Jeff. May be in a sadistic-sarcastic way. But you are funny.

    But whom am I telling. You know that already !!

  • Awardsdaily

    Wrong. Not “fairly happy with it” – really LOVED IT. The woman sitting next to me in the theater was crying to the point of sobs by the end, as were many seated next to me, beside me and behind me. And I think there are going to be a lot of people who feel as you do. I talked to a few who felt that way. I found it to be his most accomplished film to date (same goes for Payne’s Nebraska). Reitman stepping WAY outside his comfort zone for this. But the key to getting it seems to be to understand what the whole point of it is – the four day timeline, all that happens in those four days.

    Tonight, Redford talked about taking risks as an artist, not just continuing to do the same kind of thing over and over as Reitman could surely do. But he’s all over the map and I respect that about him. Honestly, I never thought he had it in him to do a movie like this.

    • http://jessecrall.wordpress.com/ Jesse Crall

      Great to hear, although I’m not Reitman has displayed a real comfort zone. His 1st four movies were all quite different, like them or not. I think the dearth of mid-range budget character studies with a studio sheen makes his filmography look more uniform than it really is.

    • Vinci_Smetana

      Sasha, do you think Jason Reitman’s heterosexuality affected his direction of Kate Winslet? I know you made a similar comment about Lee Daniels’ sexuality and the performance he got out of Oprah Winfrey.

      • Browncoat

        Wait. What?

        • Vinci_Smetana

          Here ya’ go: http://www.awardsdaily.com/blog/lee-daniels-the-butler-waiting-for-an-echo/

          Only a director with Daniels’ confidence could get that kind of performance from Oprah … Why is it so rare to see women in American film portrayed with a healthy attitude about their sexuality? Maybe because Daniels himself doesn’t see an actress and want to fuck her … Daniels as a gay man holds women up to a different standard of regard that many of his straight director peers … Maybe because he sees her as a vital woman even at her age. Whatever it is, Oprah is playing a character unlike any we ever see in movies.

          • Spot

            If it would have been tall, dark stranger Rooney Mara making love to Winslet instead of Brolin, I wonder what Sasha would have said about Reitman’s sexuality. What is crazy is this all comes back to a film she has never bothered to see.

            • Vinci_Smetana

              Wonder if she’ll give it a whirl this weekend in Tell-u-ride.

              • Awardsdaily

                You guys are missing the point. What I see and what I don’t see is none of your business. But as to the sexuality of Lee Daniels – he didn’t treat Oprah as a discarded sexual being simply because she was much older and not up to the status quo of what Hollywood defines as a beauty. He sees her fully as a woman without needing to put his own projections of fucking her on her performance. No such situation would present itself with Kate Winslet, a woman many straight men must find in keeping with the status quo of sexiness. Next, I’ll hold your hand while you take a piss. That should be fun.

                • DuluozRedux

                  Kate Winslet looks like a man in drag. As usual, women have no clue what men find sexy.

                  • Awardsdaily

                    This must be what the internets calls trolling.

                  • Brian Bouton

                    Are you nuts? Kate Winslet is fucking gorgeous. If you’re thinking she looks like a man, you must be bringing home a lot of guys on accident.

                    • DuluozRedux

                      No, I just like my women to not look like linebackers.

                    • Brian Bouton

                      Which NFL team would draft her for the defensive line?

                • Vinci_Smetana

                  Sasha, you’re making it about what YOU define as sexy. You’re saying that because Winfrey is 1) old and 2) not skinny, you don’t find her attractive. Helen Mirren has played sexually neglected characters and not all of her directors have been gay. In fact, I don’t which ones are/were. You know why? It’s none of my business. The same goes for any performance by someone younger and overweight. Was it unusual to see an older, overweight woman (who also happens to be of a minority race) get so much screen-time in a high-profile feature? Yes. That, the knowledge of the director’s sexuality, and the fact that Winfrey had an acting coach on set (do you know HER sexuality), is all you have.

                  Next, I’ll hold your hand while you take a piss. That should be fun. Yes, because you’re not going to get out of it dry.

                  • Alan Burnett

                    Hey man, you just don’t understand. After all, any critic worth his or her salt with throw “what I see and what I don’t see is none of your business” to defend a position.

    • Spot

      Sasha, did you see the film or did you figure it was a film you loved based on the sexuality of the filmmaker and the woman has a male love interest?

      • yardsusa

        Well that’s just a pitiful thing to say on a film site.

      • AstralWeeks666

        You have to admit that the female audience is starved of attention from Hollywood these days. As well as almost abandoning adult drama’s, so-called women’s films are in a marked decline. Look at how a mediocre film like The Heat made a box office killing thanks to it having two female leads. I imagine that Labor Day will find an appreciative audience.

        It’ll be interesting to see Reitman making a straight up melodrama. His other films were quite emotionally effecting when he dropped the hipster posturing and went for an emotional core in the last act.

    • Chris Willman

      I refuse to believe that this movie made anyone cry. I mean, I will take your word for it. But it seems unfathomable to me.

      • Awardsdaily

        Well um sorry to report Chris but I cried pretty hard and the girl next to me was and everyone all around me was also crying. Even the volunteer standing in the aisle on the way out was wiping tears away. You calling me a liar? :)

        • DuluozRedux

          Crying cause it was so bad?

        • Thom Phoolery

          So everyone cries at the end. Thanks for spoiling the ending, beeyotch!!

    • Alan Burnett

      “Redford talked about taking risks as an artist, not just continuing to do the same kind of thing over and over as Reitman could surely do.”

      Yeah … wait, what? Redford said that? For real? The guy who tried to soften up Mamet’s script for ‘The Verdict’, had ‘The Last Castle’ rewritten so he didn’t play the villain and has directed the same soft, left, weepy, milktoast-as-fuck dramas for the past two decades is trying to convince people he takes risks? I admire many of his earlier achievements, but – hell – the idea that he could take ONE ROLE in the past twenty years that is remotely interesting and try to pass himself off a risk-taking artist is kinda hilarious.

      • Awardsdaily

        I like Mamet’s softened version of The Verdict, for what it’s worth. He makes new films, doesn’t rely on sequels, doesn’t make Ordinary People 2 or even films like that over and over again. That Lion for Lambs was a risky film that didn’t quite work but I’d say, structure wise, that was pretty bold. Doing All is Lost, putting your name behind a movie that has no dialogue throughout is a risk. He makes films the critics mostly hate nowadays – that in itself is a risk. So much easier to pander to the popular tastes of our time. A mistake, ultimately.

        • DuluozRedux

          “He makes films the critics mostly hate nowadays – that in itself is a risk.”

          So does Tyler Perry and Uwe Boll.

        • brenkilco

          He doesn’t always pick run of the mill subject matter, but hasn’t he always been extremely, even pathologically protective of his star image. Never played a villain or even an anti hero. His range since the early seventies has been pretty narrow.

          • Perfect Tommy

            As a director, Redford seems recently to pick subjects to advance his political causes (not just “Lions for Lambs”, but also “The Conspirator” and “The Company You Keep”), which I guess could be seen as admirable in a put your money (or the studios money) where your mouth is kind of way, if it didn’t lead to fairly mediocre results. Which is too bad, because I really admire his early work that focused on family dynamics (“Ordinary People”, of course, but I loved “A River Runs Through It” even more.)

            • Perfect Tommy

              Come to think of it, my problem with Redford as a political filmmaker might be related to the problem some have with Redford as an actor. Just as he is protects the good guy image of his characters, he protects the rightness of his causes, not wanting there to be an attractive opposing view in his political films.

        • Alan Burnett

          “I like Mamet’s softened version of The Verdict, for what it’s worth.” Wait, what? OK, you DON’T actually know the story of what happened. Mamet wrote a script, Redford ummed about it forever and demanded a series of changes to the character and story and then said, “hey I don’t even like the concept anyway, so I’ll pass”. The project was offered to Newman, who said he would do it if they did the earlier draft (that hadn’t been sent to him), which he had read independently. The reason why you liked the film was because Newman wasn’t interested in a Redford-style watered-down version and wanted to make a tough film, not caring about protecting his image. And – again – I said ‘All is Lost’ is the ONE film in a long, long time that is some kind of risk for him. “He makes films the critics mostly hate nowadays – that in itself is a risk.”

  • Vanessa

    So…the people who liked the movie aren’t being as honest with themselves? Why can’t people just accept differing opinions? You didn’t like it, other people did. Plain and simple.

  • berg

    I was on the gondola on the way down, after last year’s screening of argo at the chuck jones theater … and the gondola stopped dead in its tracks … it was kinda freaky friday on a saturday night, you can’t see one foot outside the gondola windows yet you know you are hanging over 100 feet from the ground … the gondola started a couple of minutes later, the gondolas automatically stop when the wind peaks past a certain speed

    • DukeSavoy

      How do industry types ride gondolas at Tell. and not fall over themselves to remake Where Eagles Dare? The world cries out for a gondola picture not set in Venice. What’s wrong with these people?

  • Chris Willman

    My gondola was half-and-half. I was in the half that hated it.

  • Brian Bouton

    Hard to believe the gondola queues are still separate but equal—colored and light opinions. So much for MLK’s dream.

  • roland1824

    If you are going to throw out things like this:

    “…that kind of thing irritates me. Or it did today at least…”

    Then this post title really needs the words “for me” added to at the end of it.

    • Walter Hollmann

      isn’t that more or less implied by his authorship?

      • roland1824

        To me “doesn’t work” and “doesn’t work for me” have different implications. The prior that something is fundamentally, empirically broken; the latter admits some personal reason (bias, taste, etc) in arriving at the negative judgement. “Carrot cake doesn’t work for me” does not necessarily mean that a a given carrot cake is not perfectly made, on its own terms.

        • Walter Hollmann

          I buy that. As you were.

  • FrankV22

    After that last paragraph, the word gondola has lost all meaning.

  • donrlewis

    I’ve been in a bit of a conundrum on LABOR DAY. On one hand, I’m a huuuuge fan of Jason Reitman. On the other hand, I find Joyce Maynard to be a reprehensible fame whore for auctioning off the JD Salinger love letters she had from when she carried on an affair with him when she was 18. (The guy who bought them gave them back to Salinger so, sick burn and enjoy your dirty money).

    http://partners.nytimes.com/library/books/062399salinger-auction.html

    She should be summarily ignored forever for that move, in my opinion. But then again….YOUNG ADULT was so, so awesome….

  • Raising_Kaned

    Shouldn’t a movie called Labor Day probably be coming out, uhhh, THIS weekend?

    Always shocked by how many Christmas-themed movies were released in the summer back in the ’80s (or even the ’90s). Who the fuck wants to sit through THAT shit in mid-July?

    • Perfect Tommy

      “Miracle on 34th Street” was released May 2nd, 1947. Nothing new under the sun. (And the Christmas perennial, “Die Hard” was released on July 22nd.)

      • Raising_Kaned

        Hmmm, never knew that about Miracle — now I feel like I have a title that I can lay blame on, unfairly or not (it prob. wasn’t the first one to violate this seasonal breach, but it’s certainly early enough for me!).