I haven’t had a chance to see Labor Day since the Telluride Film Festival but my affections for it still hold strong. It continues to be one of my favorite films from Telluride 2013 and was in my top 10 of last year. I absolutely adore Jason Reitman’s films, especially Up in the Air, which I saw three times in theaters. It has left me in tears many times, and I’m sure it will do so many more times. Clearly, I have a pro-Reitman bias.
However, Labor Day is a very different film for Reitman. Rather than being sharp and quick-witted, it’s careful and considered. Before the Telluride screening, he introduced the film as a story about love, so I was shocked when the film began as a thriller in which an escaped convict kidnaps a single mother and her 12-year-old son. Although still as Reitman said, it’s a gentle, loving story. Rather than following someone dodging police bullets or breaking into buildings, Reitman lets the camera calmly glide up streets and around trees in the quiet yet intense New England setting or watch three people bake a pie together.
The sincerity of Labor Day allows it to be about whatever you relate to. I latched onto the films ideas about parenting. The boy’s father is around once a week, but is not truly mindful and present with his son. Somehow this escaped convict comes into their lives, and touches both mother and son, because he truly pays attention to them. Only a great filmmaker can take a seemingly absurd premise and put the whole theater in tears. Reitman achieves this with grace, further revealing how exceptionally talented he is.