TIFF 2013: ‘Labor Day’ has Jason Reitman toiling anew

TORONTO -- Over his first four films, Jason Reitman became known for sharply observed social comedy — a look at modern teenagers in over their heads (“Juno”), or a road-warrior corporate downsizer with a surprisingly poetic view of his job (“Up in the Air”).

His newest movie, “Labor Day,” keeps the sharpness but does away with the comedy. Reitman goes full-bore dramatic in his adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel about a single mother (Kate Winslet) and her adolescent son (Gatlin Griffin) who one holiday weekend have their lives crashed by an escaped convict (Josh Brolin), who by turns becomes a threat and an unlikely romantic interest.

There is a sober-minded intensity, even an etherealness, to the film, the kind that Reitman’s work has never shown before. There’s also something far more personal -- unlike those other films, he’s not exploring anything in the zeitgeist, just the complicated lives of these particular people over one weekend.

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The director acknowledges the new route, but says he doesn’t have a neat explanation for it.

“I’d like to say it was some big personal event like my divorce that motivated me to make a drama,” Reitman, 35, said, referring to his recent divorce from his wife of nearly a decade. “But it’s not that simple. This is just the movie I felt I wanted to make at this time.”

Speaking in an interview after the world premiere of his film earlier this week, Reitman said the job of adapting this book was actually easier — “in some places it was even ‘copy and paste’” — when compared with some of his previous work. (“Up in the Air,” for instance, took many liberties from Walter Kirn’s source novel.)

But he acknowledged that a challenge came when it was time to shoot the story, particularly since it involves numerous flashbacks and interior thoughts. “The other books were more cinematic,” he said. “This required me and everyone else to step up my game.”

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One of the hurdles was making the love believable. After all, when Winslet’s character allows the con into her house it’s under duress. What is it about her past or his personality that makes her turn?

Reitman said that this is one of the mysteries of the film, and even of the larger world. “If you asked a person who’s spent their whole life with someone what they felt two seconds after meeting them, they’re probably not going to say they found the person irresistible at that moment,” he said. “What they’ll say is they had an instinct. This film explores that instinct.”

“Labor Day” will not hit theaters for three months — it’s due out Dec. 25 — and Reitman, who has in the past expressed weariness with the demands of the fall-film circuit, is similarly ambivalent about the promotional gantlet that could await this year. “The hardest thing about it is not making a movie,” he said. “I hope by the time the film comes out I’m doing that.”

Reitman is next set to take on Chad Kultgen’s novel about sex and early adolescence titled “Men, Women and Children.” That film will put him on more comic ground. But Reitman said he doesn’t feel that distinction is terribly meaningful.

“My father [legendary comedy director Ivan Reitman] gave me some good advice when I was first starting,” the younger Reitman said. “He said, ‘It doesn’t matter if you have a barometer for comedy or your barometer for drama. What matters is your barometer for honesty.’”


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