Jason Reitman’s ‘Labor Day’ is 2013′s Most Fascinating Film Failure

Jason Reitman has had a pretty easy go of it so far. The progeny of Hollywood royalty, his four films to date — Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, and Young Adult — were met with mostly good reviews and decent box office, as well as two Academy Award nominations for Best Director. Sure, there’s been a backlash (there always is), but it was mostly a quiet one. Until now. Reitman’s latest, an adaptation of the Joyce Maynard novel Labor Day, premiered to decidedly mixed reviews (and worse buzz) at Telluride late last summer. Paramount had initially pegged it for a December, Oscar-friendly limited release — as they’d done with Up in the Air and Young Adult — but as that date approached, they quietly shuffled it off to January (leaving only a week-long Oscar-qualifying run in L.A. for December). In other words, Labor Day is likely to get ignored in the crush of December and presumed stinky in the graveyard of January. Both sentences are a shame, since it’s a risky and genuinely unusual piece of work.

This is not to say it’s a great film — it’s not. Labor Day takes itself with the kind of seriousness that results in quiet snickering and quieter eye rolling; I heard plenty of titters in my screening, though us critics are a mighty jaded bunch. The premise, first of all, is like something out of a dime-store romance paperback: an agoraphobic, depressed divorcee (Kate Winslet) and her teenage son (Gattlin Griffith) are kidnapped by an escaped felon (Josh Brolin), but over the course of the long Labor Day weekend they spend together, they discover that hey, he’s actually a Good Guy who can make a mean pot of chili, change the oil in the station wagon, show the kid how to throw a baseball, and get mom’s ample bosom a-heaving again…\

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