Jason Reitman Works Serious, Sentimental ‘Labor Day’ Drama With Kate Winslet

The writer-director agrees that he’s turning more dramatic in his latest work, which debuted at the Toronto film festival

Filmmaker Jason Reitman has the hometown advantage when debuting a film at the Toronto Film Festival – he has done it before (“Up In the Air,” “Young Adult”), and the audience is inclined to love him.

labor day smallStill, even his fans wanted to know why he was in the mood to tell the story, based on Joyce Maynard‘s novel, about a melancholy mother named Adele (Kate Winslet) who falls in love with an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) who takes her hostage – but then bakes her a pie.

“I wish I could explain that,” he responded to one audience member who asked. “I’m becoming a more dramatic guy.” When the questioner pressed, he said, “Sorry dude – I wish I could tell you I was on a trajectory.”

The film was met with wildly warm applause after its premiere screening at the Ryerson auditorium on Saturday. But then another audience member called the film “sentimental,” a fair assessment, in asking Reitman why he made it.

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“I’m not all biting and dark and sad,” said the director, a bit defensively. “Perhaps it was a reaction to the kinds of films I’d made. All I know was I read the book, and I knew I was going to make it.” But, he said, he only wanted to make it with Winslet, and had to wait a year to fit into her schedule.

Reitman has clearly moved from the wry, politically aware humor on display in “Thank You For Smoking” and “Up In The Air,” to a darker place with “Young Adult” in 2011 and a more serious one with “Labor Day.”

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“If you came expecting a comedy tonight, I apologize in advance,” he quipped to the crowd before the screening began, dedicating the film to his mother.

The story is told through the eyes of Henry (Gattlin Griffith), Adele’s adolescent son, who cares for his mother and is pained over her loneliness. (The father abandoned the family after one too many lost pregnancies sent Adele into depression.) Brolin appears as an escaped convict, but quickly fills the void in Adele’s life, and heart.

The story-telling is deliberate and precise, and once again Reitman shows his ability to create a convincing, three-dimensional female protagonist – not something that is terribly common in Hollywood.

Winslet, very visibly pregnant, hailed Reitman for his direction. “Jason is a structured filmmaker. He knows exactly how he wants to tell his story,” she said. “We could trust the direction he was going, and he had a watertight framework.”

Paramount will release the film in January.