Jason Reitman saw a movie in Joyce Maynard's 2010 novel "Labor Day." And what a movie it is.
Paramount unveiled "Labor Day" on the first day of the 40th Telluride Film Festival, marking Reitman's third world premiere at the fest. By film's end, much of the audience at the mountain top Chuck Jones Theatre was in tears. Reitman has pulled off a deceptively straightforward romance that seems almost old-fashioned given the current studio antipathy toward dramas.
The writer-director gracefully intercuts several plots and narrators in different time frames--it starts in 1987-- to reveal the back stories behind depressed Adele (Kate Winslet) living in New England solitude with her 12-year-old son Henry (Gattlin Griffith), who tries to fill the void left by his departed father (Clark Gregg), who lives happily with his second family. On an outing to the store, the mother and son are commandeered by a threatening escaped prisoner (Josh Brolin) who makes them drive him back to their house. He has jumped out a prison hospital window and needs to rest before taking off again. A manhunt for the escapee is under way, and the trio hide behind closed doors over the long weekend, as the convict gently ties up Adele ("for her protection"), and cooks and feeds her supper as her son watches.
He turns out to be a good cook. Adele's bite into a fresh biscuit signals her awakening attraction. Soon the trio settle into a family routine: baseball lessons, chores and repairs around the house, and a sensuous bout of pie-baking. All three of these lonely people blossom under each other's attention. But this man is a murderer, we learn from the nightly news, and when he's threatened by various intruders at the door, he goes into survival mode. What did he do? Are his feelings real? Is he safe?
Reitman takes us on a ride that never flags and often surprises with real emotion. He deploys multiple flashbacks, which are not easy to manipulate. Winslet has trod some of this ground before, as her mousy Mildred Pierce also harbored a strong sexual drive. This delicately sensual performance, though, should generate Oscar talk. But Brolin matches her as a strong, dangerous and sexy leading man.
Before the screening Reitman described his adaptation as the closest he'll ever do, and thanked Maynard, who took a bow, for being his collaborator --and teaching him how to make a pie. The movie played to strong applause. I'd like to think that these movie-loving adults will spread the word that audiences around the country should let the studios know that it's ok to make these movies. Still.