'Labor Day' Review: Contrived but powerful

Pic preemed Saturday at Toronto Film Fest

Shortly before the Saturday preem of Paramount’s “Labor Day” at the Ryerson Theater, Jason Reitman told Variety  that it’s “very different from my previous films.” It is indeed, and awards voters who like offbeat and tender films should respond positively.

Kudos advantages: The work of writer-director Reitman, the performances, the subtle but spot-on below-the-line work and the film’s originality.

Kudos challenges: It’s a year crowded with good work. And the film requires a leap of faith from viewers who need to accept early on that this depressed woman would allow an escaped convict to enter the lives of her and her son.

Reitman was given Joyce Maynard’s novel and thought, “There’s a complex set of ideas there.” He liked the challenge, saying “It’s unusual for me to make a film with so little dialogue.” He also praised production designer Steve Saklad, composer Rolfe Kent, costume designer Danny Glicker and d.p. Eric Steelberg for similarly doing work that was far from their previous collaborations with him. “And it’s a luxury to work with brilliant actors.”

Josh Brolin told Variety he was also pushed in a new direction. He was “a bundle of nerves” on the first day of shooting but “I put a lot of trust in Jason.” The director reined in even small hand movements, saying “I don’t want any energy to leave your body if it doesn’t have to.”

Kate Winslet, in an advanced state of pregnancy, didn’t watch the film Saturday but came onstage for the Q&A afterwards.

In his conversation with Variety, Reitman was full of praise for her, holding off on production 18 months until she was available. Casting her “was a no-brainer. I don’t know what i would have done if she said no.”

One blogger referred to the film as sentimental, but it’s not. The ending is a tear-jerker but the tears are earned, not manipulated.

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