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by Nigel M Smith
February 5, 2014 12:00 PM
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Jason Reitman Addresses His 'Labor Day' Critics and Explains Why He Made the Film

Since first making a splash with his feature directorial debut "Thank You For Smoking," filmmaker Jason Reitman has been on a roll with critics and awards voters, garnering a steady stream of acclaim for his follow-up films "Juno," "Up in the Air" and "Young Adult." It seemed like his good fortune was going to continue when it was announced his latest, "Labor Day," was selected to premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, where Oscar hopefuls screen before making their way to the Toronto International Film Festival. Yet despite some positive early reviews (including one from Indiewire's own Eric Kohn), Paramount decided to move its wide release from Christmas Day to the doldrums of January, and the majority of reviews that followed were less than kind (go here for Criticwire's roundup of nasty takedowns). Did Reitman make a major misstep with his first earnest drama? We'll let you be the judge -- the film is currently playing in theaters nationwide.

In "Labor Day" (based on a novel by Joyce Maynard and written for the screen by Reitman) Josh Brolin plays an escaped convict who finds refuge in the home of a depressed single mother (Kate Winslet) and her son (Gattlin Griffith). As police troll the town, Brolin's character gradually reveals his true colors and falls for his new "family" in the process.

READ MORE: Josh Brolin talks to Indiewire

Indiewire sat down with Reitman in Toronto last September to discuss the reactions to the film, whether he sees "Labor Day" as a change of pace, and how he's evolved as a director of actors.

Yeah you left me in tears, so thanks for that.

My pleasure, I’m here to steal your tears.

Since it first premiere in Telluride, everyone's been going on about how this marks a huge change of pace for you. Do you see it as a change?

Yeah -- it’s really funny. It’s like being at your bar mitzvah. Everyone’s like, "Oh, you’re a man!" and you don’t really feel different from one day to the next. I can’t help but look, and at least view a certain maturity through all of my movies, certainly in "Up in the Air" and "Young Adult." What this film has is just a different pastiche. I mean, it’s a more classically shot and cut film, and it uses a shooting style that people associate with a different era, and the music is very different. But I don’t know, I felt like for the bulk of this field, that this was the most accurate way to tell the story.

It’s a weird thing making movies because there’s usually one moment in your life, whether it happens young or late, where you get a sense of how people see you. Oh, that’s how people see me, they see me as that guy. And that happens every time you make a film.

You make a film purely instinctively, you have a sense of what’s right, you finish it, you put it out into the world, and all of a sudden, having worked on it for years, people go "Oh, you’re now this and this happening in your life obviously and why did you do this?" I wanted to make a movie.

Despite being based on a book, "Labor Day" still plays like an extremely personal film. Am I totally off base?

Yeah. First of all, I was 13 in the late '80s, so I kind of saw myself in that boy. Joyce, the author of the novel, somehow nailed the mindset of a 13-year-old boy trying to understand his own sexuality, while observing his mom with this man. There were so many details in the book that got right into the head of the boy that I just don’t know how she could possibly known without having been a 13-year-old boy, and that made it very personal for me.

And again, part of the interesting process in talking to journalists is you start to understand more about yourself because of the way they look at your film. Someone brought up there was a similarity with "Up in the Air," there was an importance on immediate relationships between strangers, and she was 100% right about that. I never thought about that before. That’s true, it’s a very personal story for me, and I’m a big believer in the intimacy of strangers.

How so?

Well I think there are certain things you tell people you don’t know. It’s much easier sometimes to open up about everything that’s going on in your life with someone you never met. That’s what I love airplanes, ‘cause you’ve got this immediate relationship with the window and the aisle. It’s sometimes very hard to open up to people you know best.

As you do with press.

Yeah, basically.

You mine some incredible performances in this film. Josh told me that that he’s never felt so emotionally vulnerable on set.

[laughs] Well, that’s because he wasn’t allowed to wear any prosthetics and he wasn’t allowed to do an accent. You know, he loves to hide, and he’s terrified of being a handsome leading man. But that’s who he is -- it’s in his DNA. And it was exciting to watch him to do that, play exposed and not have anything to latch onto. And that’s my favorite things as a director, I think, with an actor, take away some of their security blankets and truly let them to be exposed. That’s how you see George [Clooney] in "Up in the Air," that’s how you see Charlize [Theron] in "Young Adult," and that’s certainly what you see Josh in this movie.

Well what kind of atmosphere do you create on set in order to make your performers so comfortable?

I work with a family of filmmakers. I’ve known my editor and my DP forever, I’ve known them since I was a teenager. I’ve known my production designer, my costume designer since my first film. And I use people like my camera operator, my dolly grip, my gaffer, my key grip, These are people that I’ve worked with over and over and it’s a light easy attitude and a light easy atmosphere on my set, so hopefully what people pick up quickly is "we’re gonna joke, we’re gonna have a good time, it’s hard work but it’s loose." And Kate [Winslet] said, and I’m beginning to understand this after making the film, I have such a strict sense of what we’re about to do and I create such a strict guideline that there’s a certain freedom to operating within those guidelines as opposed of going deep into whatever you want.


  • soytim | February 6, 2014 7:47 PMReply

    "Why would Kate Winslett let Josh Brolin in her house?" Uh,have you seen him lately? What straight woman/gay man wouldn't?

  • Roger | February 6, 2014 3:29 PMReply

    A five month old interview "addresses his critics", who are manifestly more numerous today than they were when your reviewer was weeping over it in Toronto? Even the studio realized it was an unintentional laugh riot, and moved it. Way to trot out past-expiration-date pie crust and claim it's fresh.

  • Emma | February 6, 2014 3:27 PMReply

    Reitman wasn't the right choice for this movie. Plain and simple. The book is quite intriguing and it could've been a good film; for starters it had the right leads. Reitman messed it up. He was so concerned with making the audience feel a certain way that the movie felt forced, and the naturalistic acting clashed with that, making the whole thing tonally off. It's a shame because Winslet & Brolin deserved a lot better. Both said he wasn't who they had in mind to direct the movie, but I guess they figured they'd take a chance. Reitman is after all an acclaimed director with a solid track record. Winslet is Kate f-cking Winslet so this is like a minuscule dip for her, she won't suffer, she's made some bad movies before. It's a huge drop for Reitman though, considering how his previous work was received.

  • jason | February 6, 2014 11:48 AMReply

    He's such a known insufferable douche why are we bothering giving him more press for this turkey?

  • Phil | February 5, 2014 4:35 PMReply

    I thought Juno was a good film (Script by Diablo) executed well and had very solid performances. Up in the Air, well I mean I saw the ending coming a mile away and Clooney did a great Clooney, Vera stole the picture though. Other then that I kind of feel Jason has used up his bag of tricks. He actually might want to consider changing up on his DP or Editor next picture it might juice things up or invigorate his choices. As for Labor Day, why this? I gotta believe he had better choices in material (I couldn't believe the Kate when she really let a felon near her boy, that was a hard one to suspend your disbelief). As the writer of the article said this is really a Lifetime Channel movie. Also one last thing as someone who has been on a few film sets, why in the world would you take the stand-ins to the locations and rehearse/block with them and film/shoot all the planned shots. This would seem to paint yourself in a corner a little bit when the actual actors show up and you've really (in your mind anyway) already made these blocking choices instead of rehearsing in the space with the actual actors and then blocking/lighting with them. Maybe I didn't really understand his thought process but I gota believe Josh & Kate want to work the room themseles a little before you start throwing their marks down because YOU already have the angles all set in your mind. Oh and by the way Jason will be just fine even with this mess of a film, refer to his last name.

  • Connie | February 5, 2014 12:12 PMReply

    "you left me in tears, so thanks for that." Gag. I didn't like his films that WERE well received, so I can only imagine one that wasn't.