Director Jason Reitman, known for snappily written modern-day comedies like “Up in the Air” and “Juno,” tackles unfamiliar territory with his new feature “Labor Day,” a fugitive love story set in 1980s small-town America.
Adapted by Reitman from the 2009 novel by Joyce Maynard, the film centers on an agoraphobic single mother, played by Kate Winslet, and her 13-year-old son. Their lives are reshaped over a 1987 holiday weekend when an escaped convict, portrayed by Josh Brolin, forces them to shelter him from authorities.
The film, which premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, is a departure from Reitman’s other offerings, which have taken a generally tongue-in-cheek look at issues such as teenage pregnancy, corporate lobbyists and the frequent-flyer lifestyle.
But the 35-year-old Montreal native and son of director Ivan Reitman said he wasn’t setting out to change lanes in a career that has already netted him two best director Oscar nominations.
“I wasn’t looking to make a shift,” he said at a press conference.
“Strangely, I think underneath it all this film is similar to my other works in that they’re about atypical heroes.”
The film received a rare round of applause at a press and industry screening in Toronto, and might be positioned for Academy Awards notice with a Christmas Day release date – prime time for films hoping to get awards consideration – as well as its premiere at a festival known for launching Oscar contenders.
However, early reviews have been mixed, with Variety critic Peter Debruge calling it a powerful but contrived romance that has the potential to be a holiday sleeper hit.
Guardian reviewer Catherine Shoard said the film was “brilliantly executed” with accomplished performances from both Winslet and Brolin, but said it suffered from an “absurdity of circumstance.”
“This is a heck of a potboiler to swallow whole,” she wrote.