Telluride 2013: Jason Reitman's 'Labor Day' is Quiet But Very Moving

August 29, 2013

Labor Day

It's not often I see a film that leaves me speechless - truly and utterly incapable of forming thoughts because my own mind is still swirling, still full of emotion. Yet there I sat, as the credits rolled on Jason Reitman's latest film Labor Day, and I didn't know what to say. Aside from "floored." It left me in such an interesting state-of-mind, endlessly processing all the emotions I just experienced and how beautifully it was handled. And it's not just that I was blown away or impressed, as I love Reitman's filmmaking, but also because I was so affected, so emotionally wrapped up in the story and the characters, that I'm still having trouble putting together the right words to explain my feelings on this masterful film. Is it Reitman's best work? I think so.

Labor Day is the fifth feature film directed by Jason Reitman, adapted for the screen from Joyce Maynard's novel of the same name. Set in 1987, Kate Winslet portrays Adele, the single mother of an optimistic kid named Henry, played by newcomer Gattlin Griffith. Ever since her husband left, Adele has never been the same, emotionally wrought and unable to leave home. On a rare shopping trip, they encounter a mysterious but alluring man played by Josh Brolin who ends up going back to their house. While they begin to hear about him on the news, they also discover he's not the man the rest of the town is making him out to be. The story explores the relationships between the three of them during an otherwise quiet Labor Day weekend.

What's particularly so impressive is how much of a departure this film is from Jason Reitman's past work. Give or take Young Adult, I am big admirer of his films Thank You For Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air. However, Labor Day is a much quieter, much more dramatic yet refined and intimate yet affecting drama that seems to be a complete change in pace for Reitman. Nonetheless, it shows just how much he continues to improve as a filmmaker. The performances (and his cast choices) are still remarkable, the score/music is still wonderful, the cinematography is still gorgeous, the masterful storytelling still engaging and affecting.

The film is not only an honest love story and a drama about a broken family, but also a coming-of-age story, and a heartfelt lesson in the complex emotions that humans experience. The film seems to be a very deep, personal expression of the kind of raw emotions that only the phenomena of this world ("fear, belief, love") bring out, and yet Jason handles the nuances of these emotions perfectly. There were so many moments that just floored me, in the way he decided to approach and handle intricate relationships, exploring situations and people doing the opposite of what one might expect. While at its core this is simply a story about three people, there are so many layers within and so much more depth that only a true artist could incorporate.

While I've used the word "beautiful" to describe many films, this one truly deserves that adjective. Winslet gives an exceptional performance that will echo through the minds of many, and Brolin matches her in the way he balances fierceness and charisma. It's a beautiful film in the way it handles love, emotions, complex characters and relationships. It's a quiet film, not only in atmosphere but in dialogue, though nonetheless beautifully quiet. It starts a bit off beat, then picks up quickly with Brolin, and Griffith doesn't have enough to say, but this film left an imprint. The kind that will last with me for days, for months or years, as I think back to the story and reflect upon my own choices, and my own emotions, that drive my life. Bravo Jason.

Alex's Telluride Rating: 9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing

Find more posts: Review, Telluride 13



I have an affinity for Jason's work. Can't wait to see this masterpiece.

Quanah on Aug 29, 2013


Big fan of Young Adult and Jason's other work, so of course I look forward to this one! Glad you have so many good things to say about it!

DavideCoppola on Aug 30, 2013


Young Adult cemented my admiration for Reitman,

YEMA on Aug 30, 2013


I look forward to seeing "Labor Day". Jason Reitman indirectly introduced me to First Mr. Reitman filmed most of "Up in the Air" in the St. Louis area. I came across Alex Billington's gondola interview while researching the Wikipedia article. I've been a fan of both Jason Reitman and First since.

dandassow on Aug 30, 2013

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