Three years ago, you could have forgiven Jason Reitman for having an invincible self-image. His first four features all garnered a degree of critical praise, and “Juno” and “Up In The Air” each got a handful of Oscar nods. Even “Young Adult,” which flopped at the box office, was well regarded —the type of film his loyalists could appreciate as part of his wry and stylish repertoire and critics could hail as emotionally honest and fresh. Then came the bizarrely contrived and un-self-aware “Labor Day,” in which Josh Brolin played an escaped convict who coerces/romances Kate Winslet, and the support that had come so easily to Reitman suddenly disappeared.
And the filmmaker says not only that he was stung by the reaction to his last picture, but also that he now finds it “misguided.” The admission comes at a point in an interview when the director is defending Adam Sandler against accusations of laziness. Sandler stars in Reitman’s next feature, “Men, Women & Children” which just premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (read our review here).
He tells Screen Crush: “You’re always trying. And I say that sensitively, because I can imagine someone looking at ‘Labor Day’ and going, “Remember when he fucking gave up?” It’s shitty as hell. It’s totally shitty… I’ve done more work on that movie than I’ve ever done on a movie. I’m proud of it. And then it doesn’t land and then you realize, oh, this was a misguided effort, for whatever reason. My dad said something so smart to me. He does all the time, but he said, ‘I was watching “Labor Day” again, [and] it just struck me all of a sudden that you weren’t making a movie about a man and a women, you were making a movie about a kid,’ … and Paramount marketed a movie about a man and a woman and everyone wrote about a movie about a man and a woman and it became this kind of romance. And he said, ‘you really didn’t care about the romance, did you?’ And I said, ‘no, the romance really was a B plotline to this kid.’ So, if I somehow would have focused the movie on the kid? I don’t know. When a band plays a song outside of their genre, there’s a bit of, ‘can you please go back to playing the songs we like?'”
Effectively, Reitman says that hindsight is 20/20, and it’s usually just the viewer misapprehending what went wrong if they believe a filmmaker wasn’t trying. A “phone-in” in filmmaking is very rarely a conscious decision. It’s not that easy to make a good movie, even with a well of talent as deep as Reitman’s. We’ll see what we all make of his follow-up when “Men Women & Children” opens on October 1st.