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Entries in jason reitman (2)

Friday
Jan312014

Labor Day

Jason Reitman has always excelled as a director by finding the extraordinary in the mundane. “Juno,” for example, was a simple story about a young, pregnant girl who use sarcasm to hide her insecurities and was forced to grow up before she was ready. “Up in the Air” was about a businessman who flew all over the world trying to hit the elusive 10 million mile mark only to discover that he has been chasing a meaningless dream. Eventually, he realized that, despite being surrounded by hundreds of people every day, he was just as lonely around them as he was back home by himself. However, in his latest film, “Labor Day,” Reitman attempts the opposite: to find the mundane in an extraordinary situation. As talented as he and his cast are, they can’t make this approach work. Its story is slow, hard-to-swallow, heavy handed and more worthy of eye rolls than tears.

“Labor Day” takes place in 1987. Young Henry (Gattlin Griffith) lives with his mother, Adele (Kate Winslet). She has been depressed and lonely ever since her husband, Gerald (Clark Gregg), left her. One day while out shopping, she and Henry are abducted by Frank (Josh Brolin), a recently escaped convict who was serving an 18 year sentence for murder. While at the hospital to get his appendix taken out, he jumped out of the second floor window while the cops were out for a smoke, resulting in a damaged leg. Since he has nowhere to go and can’t move well, he demands Adele drive him to her home where he shacks up for a few days. While there, he cleans, cooks and even fixes broken appliances, which slowly causes Adele to fall in love with him.

The way these moments are handled actually downplays the kidnapping. Never mind the fact that prior to these moments, he was gripping her son’s neck in a violent and threatening way. Or that he tied her up while Henry sat helplessly. Or that he used Henry as his guinea pig to shoo visitors away while he kept Adele from squealing nearby. Sure, Frank killed someone and could potentially kill her and Henry, but boy, can that man make a pie!

And there is its fundamental problem. “Labor Day” tries to negate the evildoings by showing that, hey, Frank is kind of a nice guy. Things may not be as clear cut as they seem, as evidenced by numerous flashbacks that are edited in so randomly as to be initially confusing, but the characers don’t know that. The film tries to make Adele a sympathetic character and, to an extent, she is—she’s clearly heartbroken and longs for some type of affection from someone other than her son—but as Henry puts it, it wasn’t losing his father that broke her heart, but the idea of losing love itself. She’s so desperate for that affection that she quickly looks past the threatening nature of Frank, which could potentially put her own son in harm’s way, for a quick emotional fix. If Frank had explained his indiscretions instead of giving vague assurances like “I’ve never intentionally hurt anyone,” then perhaps her decisions would have held more validity. Such is not the case, however, so they instead come with a lack of reasoning and a type of selfishness that makes her character extremely off-putting.

Thematically, Jason Reitman has never been too subtle. As good as the aforementioned “Juno” and “Up in the Air” are, you’d have to be pretty clueless to not see what they’re going for, but the events surrounding those themes were at least a bit more downplayed, particularly in “Up in the Air.” This makes me wonder what he was thinking while directing this. While some of the in-your-face pervasiveness can be attributed to others (the none-too-subtle score and sound editing quickly come to mind), others are clearly his own doing. The tone of the film is a complete mess, as is the dialogue that works as its foundation. Despite a score that makes it pretty clear upon his onscreen arrival that Frank is not necessarily who he seems to be, the film still tries to throw us off the trail with conflicting dialogue and character mood swings. Frank’s initial hostility quickly turns to a feeling of gratitude right before he once again starts issuing threats; a clumsy arc in an all-around clumsy movie.

To make matters worse, Brolin, in an uncharacteristically mediocre performance does everything he can to manufacture suspense, perhaps at the request of Reitman. He stays inside and away from prying eyes for the majority of the movie, but when he actually does come face-to-face with another person, he couldn’t be more suspicious if he tried. Every event that plays out in “Labor Day,” from the opening sequence to the final shot, is so preposterous that it’s far too difficult to take seriously, a request the film so desperately doles out to its viewers.

Adapted from the 2009 novel of the same name, “Labor Day” is awkwardly paced, tonally inconsistent and narratively absurd. One could joke that the movie came either too late or really early in relation to the actual day the title alludes to, but I’ll say in all seriousness that I wish it had never come at all.

Labor Day receives 1/5

Friday
Dec162011

Young Adult

When director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody teamed up in 2007 for Juno, they struck gold. All of a sudden, their small independent movie was seeing a wide release and garnering a number of award nominations, including a nod for Best Picture at the Oscars. Since then, Reitman has directed the wonderful Up in the Air, another terrific movie that, similar to Juno, was met with critical acclaim and awards nominations. Cody, on the other hand, moved onto Jennifer’s Body, a lackluster (if even a bit underrated) horror comedy that tried far too hard to capture that Juno magic. Now she is back with a new script and working with the director that made her somebody. The end result is Young Adult, an occasionally funny, sometimes clever, but all around mediocre vehicle for Charlize Theron in the most unlikable role she’s ever been in. And she was in Monster. Think about that.

In the film, Theron plays Mavis Gary, a writer who is in the process of writing the last book in a popular young adult series. Her draft is due soon, but she has barely begun to write it. This is due to her infatuation with an old fling, Buddy Slade, played by Patrick Wilson. The problem is he’s married and he’s about to have a baby. She knows this thanks to the invitation she was sent to join him and his wife in their celebration, but she doesn’t care. She plans on breaking them up and taking him for herself.

Mavis is a terrible person. There’s no getting around it. Some may argue that as one of the film’s strengths. Some will see deep meaning in her actions and words. They’ll see some statement on humanity and desperation, but they’ll be reaching. Not all movies have likable characters, but those movies don’t necessarily try to make you like them. Young Adult does. You’re supposed to laugh at her excess, her rudeness, her vulgarity, but it’s very hard to do so. She is trying to break up a perfectly happy marriage, one where a kid is on the way, for her own selfish gain. She has one friend in the small town she grew up in, Matt, played by Patton Oswalt, who she treats terribly, despite the fact that years ago he was brutally beaten and left to die by a group of people who just happened to think he was gay. She’s also a hypocrite, telling Matt at one point to stop living in the past and dwelling on his terrible event, despite the entire fact that she’s back in her hometown solely because she wants so badly to be with her high school boyfriend, unable to follow her own advice.

Young Adult may send mixed messages about how we are supposed to approach this character, but it does show hints of intelligence. Mavis, as terrible as she is, is hard to take seriously. She’s a writer of those silly tween novels and she treats her life like one. She has this fantasy that she will ride off into the sunset with Buddy and live happily ever after. She has spent her entire career building unrealistic fantasies that she’s now starting to believe in them. When she has a late movie speech about how Buddy is her moon and stars, it’s not cheesy and laughable like it would be in a different film. It’s actually kind of brilliant.

The relationship between Mavis and Matt also takes some nice unexpected turns and the chemistry between the two actors is surprisingly good. Oswalt in particular plays well in another quirky role, but after starring in the underseen, but absolutely fantastic Big Fan, one can’t help but want more for him. Still, he’s good enough to make this movie watchable, though not enough to make up for its shortcomings. There are some great moments in Young Adult that hint at a great movie hidden somewhere in it. It’s just a shame Cody and Reitman couldn’t find it.

Young Adult receives 2.5/5