By Will Ashton | firstname.lastname@example.org| @thewillofash
Labor Day | Directed by Jason Reitman | Rated PG-13
Now, sure, Ivan Reitman has made some good films in his day. Ghostbusters is a classic, Twins is, sort of, a guilty pleasure of mine, and I have heard some very good things about Dave, though I still haven’t gotten around to seeing it.
But Jason, through his filmography, has demonstrated himself as a bracingly bold visionary with a unique sense of comedy and drama that is blended with the right amount of reality and genuine sincerity.
Though still relatively early in his career, he has been able to make one great film (Up in the Air), one very good one (Thank You for Smoking) and two good ones (Juno and Young Adult).
But, sometimes, even talented filmmakers misfire, and, thus, Jason Reitman has made his first miss, with his latest film Labor Day.
In the late summer of 1987, Henry (Gattlin Griffith) and his newly single, depressed mom Adele (Kate Winslet) are forced to take care of fugitive Frank (Josh Brolin) when they run into him at a local store. Throughout a span of events that happen over a holiday weekend, however, the three people begin to care for one another, and learn about the dangers that come from the outside world.
The biggest problem that Labor Day faces is that, ultimately, it doesn’t ring true. While, expectedly, Winslet and Brolin are pretty good, the story lacks the sense of authencity and depth that is usually quite naturally found in the director’s previous films. The characters’ actions don’t feel like they would actually happen if they were to take place outside of a script, and, as a result, it is hard to get invested in the story.
Moreover, Reitman makes his film move is a predictable, routine way. The film’s ongoing padding lacks the rhythm and humor that is typically graceful in Reitman’s other films. As a result, Labor Day makes for an almost deathly dull experience that is only slightly livened up by some well-executed scenes throughout.
There’s no denying Reitman’s talent as a director. Even in his lesser efforts like this, he is able to excel in smaller, quiet moment. In particular, one scene three-fourths in the film involving a backstory from Adele is up to the standards that Reitman usually has, thanks to expert, nuanced direction and Winslet’s quiet, resilient performance in the moment. Another moment, involving Henry and Adele in the bank, also features Reitman’s knack for time and execution, and is made all the more unsettling when you realize that the rest of the film is not up to par.
There are other elements of Reitman’s film that are good. Cinematography from Eric Steelberg, who has shot Reitman’s last four movies, is typically good, as is the editing from Dana E. Glauberman, especially in the movie’s aforementioned quieter moments. Also good is the production design by Steve Saklad, which helps elevate the film’s eighties time period to feel fully realized and natural.
I’m glad that Reitman is trying to push himself as a filmmaker into territory that is out of his comfort zone. That said, however, I just wish that the final product that came from it wasn’t so dull, cliché and un-engaging. Even the filmmaker’s trademark sense of humor seems lost, despite a couple moments of chuckles here and there. Reitman is already working on his next film, Men, Women and Children. I hope that one is better than this one.