TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL: Jason Reitman’s ‘Labor Day’ elicits tears and Oscar talk


labor day

Yesterday, attendees of the 2013 Telluride Film Festival were lucky enough to get a four-month head start on holiday moviegoers upon screening Jason Reitman’s dark family drama, Labor Day. In the film, Kate Winslet stars alongside Josh Brolin — said to be campaigned “supporting” by distributing studio Paramount — in a fictional story about a single mother and her son, who encounter an escaped convict and subsequently provide him refuge in their home. The movie is adapted from Joyce Maynard’s novel of the same name. Ever since the start of the year, pundits have had Reitman’s latest on their radar for the upcoming awards season. Now that people have finally seen it, the feedback from Telluride could make or break the film’s chances at Oscar gold.

Personally, I am never one to dismiss The Academy’s love for dysfunctional families with heavy drama at their conflicted center, especially within the last decade. This recent love-fest pattern is quite obvious to those who’ve taken notice: Little Miss Sunshine, Juno (also a Reitman film), The Blind Side, The Kids Are All Right, The Descendants, and Silver Linings Playbook all contain family driven narratives that are serious but have light moments thrown in for easier digestion (the first two mentioned border on comedy). The only big contenders coming out this year that fit this profile are Labor Day and August: Osage County. Like most pundits, I too am guessing that The Weinsteins will be able to wiggle John Well’s August: Osage County into a Best Picture lineup over the less flashy and well-known Labor Day.

However, while Labor Day has taken a backseat in the buzz department these last few months, the positive early word coming out of Telluride now puts it firmly back in the Oscar conversation. If August: Osage County is too depressing, cynical and narcissistic for AMPAS voters, the heartfelt and sentimental Labor Day could be the more attractive option to fill their annual “family narrative” spot in Best Picture. Let’s take a look at some reviews and reactions from the Telluride screening:

Gregory Ellwood from Hitflix says this about Labor Day:

 You may have met many a someone in your life whose passion for being in love is almost addictive. Someone who loves the intimacy so much it blinds them to the reality around them. Someone for whom there is no middle ground in a relationship. Either they are 110% in or they are out. That, in a nutshell, is the character of Adele, played by Kate Winslet, in Jason Reitman‘s new drama “Labor Day.” It’s also the crux of a storyline that will reward viewers who are willing to take a big jump.

and of the great Kate Winslet and the less great (but still good!) Josh Brolin:

Reitman is assisted by another strong performance by Winslet who once again proves she might be the second best living actress on the planet after Meryl Streep (and she is likely the film’s strongest awards player). Brolin is also very good although you wonder if another actor could have made the quick seduction of Adele a tad more believable. It’s his work with Griffith that makes much of the movie work, however. Griffith isn’t necessarily a revelation, but he’s pretty damn close. It’s a superb and natural turn for the 14-year-old who you’d never believe already has a substantial resume of work in Hollywood.

AwardsDaily’s Sasha Stone gives her post-screening Oscar prognosis of Labor Day:

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.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg provides a sobering Oscar analysis of Labor Day:

My own take [on Labor Day]? Somewhere in-between.

Like the last two films that opened the fest — Alexander Payne’s The Descendants and Ben Affleck’s Argo — it is a dark drama adapted from a book and features excellent performances. Unlike those other two films, though, it might well score more than one acting nomination — Kate Winslet for best actress and Josh Brolin for best supporting actor — but it may also face an uphill climb in the best picture race, which is generally dominated by films about matters of greater social significance than a single mother (Winslet) and her teenage son (14-year-old Gattlin Griffith) who take in and bond with a criminal (Brolin) over five days in 1987.

Variety’s Peter Debruge, who enjoyed Labor Day in spite of its faults, notices Jason Reitman’s evolution as a director:

“Labor Day” brims with such carefully observed details, all of them a little too elegant to feel entirely genuine, and yet impossible to fault — apart from the underlying premise, of course, which is plenty troubling: that a misunderstood killer is just the father/lover this incomplete family needs to feel whole again. Still, one has to respect Reitman for tackling a project with such a major inherent hurdle, and there’s no question that this film finds him delving past the ironic veneer of “Juno” and “Young Adult” into more sentimental (evoking Clint Eastwood’s “The Bridges of Madison County” and “A Perfect World,” in particular).