I'm so behind on my reviews, and it makes me a little nauseous. I'm going to play the family card, and hope you'll forgive me, and start to catch up as best I can.
My first priority, of course, is to bring you my thoughts on the two (yes, only two...) movies I was able to see at TIFF. It's fitting, perhaps, that I loved one and hated the other, and I've decided to start with the one that I loved: Jason Reitman's Labor Day.
As I sat in the rush line alongside the many other TIFF revellers, I started to think that maybe I wasn't going to make it in. Then, God smiled upon me for being a slightly lame single woman with no date or companion, and someone off-loading one single, solitary ticket came by. I purchased it happily, for fair market value of course, and scooted into the theatre as fast as my feet could carry me. I was insanely close to the front, my neck hurt, but I heard rumbling that "someone" was there. That someone was Jason Reitman, and I was now just a few meters away from him.
I've been an admirer of Reitman's since seeing Juno and beginning my love affair with Diablo Cody, and so I was a little more than star struck. There's also something incredibly satisfying and stimulating about watching a filmmaker discuss his work. It gives a ground-level perspective that we as the audience could never fully comprehend. With that, I was even more thankful for my random and serendipitous TIFF ticket moment.
Labor Day is a departure for Reitman in many respects, something which he openly admitted while introducing the film. Not only did he adapt the story from a favourite novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard, but he also is not in the business of making dramas. In fact, Labor Day is at it's core a romance, and a strange one at that.
The story follows 13-year-old Henry Wheeler (Gattlin Griffin) and his reclusive mother Adele (Kate Winslet) over the course of Labor Day Weekend in the 1980s. During a rare trip into town for school supplies they are approached by a strange and crazed looking man who demands that they drive him back to their house. They soon discover that the man, Frank (Josh Brolin), is an escaped convict. The entire town is on lockdown looking for him, and he needs to lie low until he can hop a train and get out of town. He doesn't realize just how good Adele has become at "lying low" in her life.
It may sound like a very unlikely love story, a woman and her young son being held hostage by an escaped convict, but in a strange way Frank becomes the strong male force that both Henry and Adele need. Adele, following a traumatic divorce from Henry's father, has become an agoraphobic shell of her former self. Shaky, nervous, and painfully shy, she never leaves the house unless it is to get food. Henry stands loyally by his mother, but it's evident that he too hungers for a bit more adventure.
The romance that unfolds between Adele and Frank is an incredibly delicate and gentle one. Reitman shares little moments between them, looks and touches, and we can see the unspeakable connection between the two blossom. Henry, through who's eyes we watch this story, has difficulty understanding their love and believes that Frank wants to steal his mother from him. However, as time passes, we realize that Adele and Frank have found in each other an opportunity to have the things they thought were lost forever, and heal the pain that they've experienced in their lives together. Adele lives for her son, and it's something that Frank will never tarnish or disturb.
At it's core, it is a story about first impressions (and how wrong they can be). It is a story about the power of love, both for good and bad, and how it can transcend even the most extreme and ridiculous of circumstances. It does stumble in places, and it does sometimes lose track of itself during the juxtaposition between this love story and the very intense man hunt that's unfolding in such a small town, but I was able to overcome that if only through the fact that I really cared about the characters. What's more, it's original, heart-warming, and well-made.
I had the benefit of hearing Reitman answer questions about his choices as a filmmaker after the film, and it helped me to even further understand those unique choices. We see snippets of flashbacks from the lives of Adele and Frank, slowly filling in the holes left by Henry's inability to fully comprehend what unfolds around him. The mumblings that Henry cannot make out through his mother's bedroom door are slowly brought into sharp focus, and tell a story of two people who have experienced so much loss, so much guilt, and so much hardship that they no longer recognize themselves.
Kate Winslet is, as always, spot on, but it's almost impossible to tell whether or not she'll garner more Oscar praise this year (although, I wouldn't be surprised). Brolin is the perfect combination of menacing, sexy, and kind: traits that may have felt disparate in the hands of someone else. Reitman discussed his casting choices at length, saying that the two were the obvious choices in his mind as he adapted the screenplay. In fact, he wanted Winslet for the role so badly that he waited a full year to start production when she had scheduling conflicts (instead making Young Adult, a favourite of mine).
While it is imperfect, and I'm still not sure how the Academy will receive him, Reitman has made strong attempt to expand and stretch his work, and it made me incredibly excited to see what he'll do next as he begins this new chapter in his career.