TIFF Preview: Reitman returns, with Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet


Sadly, I might not get to see Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day,” and as you’ll see from this description, that would be a major bummer. It sounds wonderful. (Note that there is no Wednesday Round-Up this week; it will return next week.)

The latest film from Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air,” “Juno”) centers on 13-year-old Henry (newcomer Gattlin Griffith) as he confronts the pangs of adolescence while struggling to care for his reclusive mother, Adele (Kate Winslet). On a back-to-school shopping trip, Henry and Adele encounter Frank (Josh Brolin), a man both intimidating and clearly in need of help, who convinces them to take him into their home. The events of this long weekend will shape each of them for the rest of their lives.

For many of us, “Labor Day” weekend evokes bittersweet memories of first loves, family vacations, and a final gasp of freedom before the new school year. For 13-year-old Henry and his reclusive, divorced mother, Adele, it offers a chance for the happiness that they have long lived without.

With the first day of school approaching, Adele (the formidable Kate Winslet) and Henry (newcomer Gattlin Griffith) have ventured on a rare outing together to buy him some new clothes, when the boy is approached by Frank (the brooding Josh Brolin) — whose bloodied forehead and clear sense of desperation signal the need for help. Setting aside their suspicions, Henry and his mother reluctantly bring the stranger home, only to discover they got more than they bargained for. It’s not long before they find themselves hostages of an escaped felon, and convicted murderer. And yet there’s something comforting about Frank. What begins as a kidnapping slowly evolves into something else.

Festival audiences first fell in love with Jason Reitman as a feature director when he premiered his debut, “Thank You For Smoking,” here in 2005. With each subsequent film, his characterizations have grown richer and more sincere. Labor Day completes this metamorphosis, offering one of the most elegantly observed dramas of the year.

Bringing Joyce Maynard’s novel to the screen with refined confidence, Reitman impressively balances the story’s dramatic and romantic tension. With nuanced performances from an all-star cast (also including Tobey Maguire and James Van Der Beek), and precise editing, the individual experiences of the film’s three central characters are seamlessly woven together over these final days of summer, as each attempts to escape their own personal prison.

Text by MICHÈLE MAHEUX; photo courtesy of TIFF