Cast: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg, Tom Lapinski, Maika Monron, J.K. Simmons, James Van Der Beek
Director: Jason Reitman
Running Time: 111 minutes
Synopsis: As Labor Day weekend approaches, thirteen-year-old Henry Wheeler and his mother Adele venture to the store to buy Henry clothes for the upcoming school year. Life has not been easy for Adele, a divorced, single mother, who rarely ventures further than her house these days.
Wandering the aisles, Henry encounters an injured man named Frank, who solicits Henry and Adele's help. He is charismatic and intimidatingly persuasive. Reluctantly, Adele agrees to take this stranger home. In so doing, she sets in motion a series of events over this fateful holiday weekend that will make them confront their past and define their future, forever changing their lives.
Release Date: February 6th, 2014
The book Labor Day, written by acclaimed author Joyce Maynard, was published in the summer of 2009 and quickly reached the NY Times Best Seller list. This unconventional tale is both suspenseful and emotionally gripping. People Magazine noted that Labor Day '…affirmed Maynard's reputation as a master storyteller…showing her to be a passionate humanist with a gifted ear and heart."
Producer Helen Estabrook, Jason Reitman's partner at Right of Way Films, read the book upon recommendation from a friend and like so many others, the characters and their journey resonated with her. She also thought it had all of the elements of a great film.
'At its core, it's a coming of age tale intertwined with lost and found love that evolves over a six day period within the confines of a complex situation. I thought the complicated, mesmerizing relationship between Adele, Frank and Henry and the increasingly high stakes were compelling and very cinematic," Helen Estabrook says.
At Helen Estabrook's suggestion, Jason Reitman read the book himself and agreed it would make an excellent film.
'I've always been attracted to stories about characters who do inexplicable things," says Jason Reitman. 'And I've always been excited, as a director, to tell a story in which the audience is going to wonder why something is happening or why something is not happening. The harder it is for an audience to believe a character would do something the more I want to tell that story.
It's a great storytelling challenge, and a writing and directing challenge, to create an environment in which characters would to things that you would never do yourself but in a way that you would finally understand," Jason Reitman says.
Reitman approached Joyce Maynard. 'I was thrilled, of course, and I felt lucky that I could put my story in the hands of Jason Reitman. I was very familiar with his work and he seemed like an ideal director for this project," says Joyce Maynard. While 'Labor Day" is only Jason Reitman's fourth film as a director, Joyce Maynard believed that this and his relatively young age were assets.
'The book takes place in 1987 but it's the story of a now grown man, looking back over this weekend that changed his life when he was a young…and Jason Reitman's about the age of that man now," explains Joyce Maynard.
Writing Labor Day was a unique experience for Joyce Maynard in that she completed the novel in an ambitious 10 days and didn't know how it would end – until it did. 'I think from the very beginning, I saw it as a movie. It was a movie that was playing in my head and I wrote it very fast, a record for me, because I wanted to know myself how it was going to turn out," Joyce Maynard recalls.
Adele and Frank are exceedingly complex with tragic histories that play heavily in shaping who they are but as they get to know each other, it becomes clear that each is a tonic for the other.
Theirs is a quiet, subtle but palpable affection and it required exceptional and nuanced actors.
'This is a movie where every flinch matters," explains Jason Reitman. 'I needed actors who had so much of the DNA of this cast already within them that even if they're standing doing nothing, if they're just basically breathing, you feel the characters and frankly I don't know any better actors than Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet at doing exactly that…at making you feel something even when they are ostensibly doing very little. It's one thing to be able to act and say things and be able to move people through their dialogue, however, it's a whole other thing to be able to just stare someone down and create empathy, whether you're supposed to be terrified or heartbroken and Josh and Kate, not only can do that but they had this great chemistry from day one," tells Jason Reitman.
The opportunity to explore Adele and all her sensitive intricacies with Jason Reitman and Josh Brolin appealed to Kate Winslet.
'The film came with Jason Reitman attached to it and that is tremendously enticing to any actor. The idea of working with Jason Reitman and Josh Brolin was irresistible," Kate Winslet explains. 'And it is such a beautifully written script, very simple in many ways but also complicated. Everything is small but everything means a huge amount in this film, such a complex set of emotions. The story itself is really very beautiful and pure and I was very much drawn to that and how these two people, against all odds, meet and are thrown together in ways that quite literally change both their lives. There's something very powerful about that to me," Kate Winslet says.
Josh Brolin was drawn to the unusual but compelling relationship between Adele and Frank. 'I read the book first and I really loved it. You're never sure if what Frank is doing is a manipulation or if it's organic and true, which makes the experience much more interesting," Josh Brolin recalls.
'I think it's a wonderful structure. You get to know the characters at different times in their lives, see their reactions. You see a very vulnerable young Frank and also you get to see him after 18 years of prison and how that affects him. He almost wants to go back in time to re-inherit his young heart. He wants to be soft again. Adele wants to return to happier times too. You see the consequence of their past, they're both traumatised and constantly fighting with that while slowly embracing the gift that has been given to them in the present, this chance meeting that could change everything for them," Josh Brolin says.
Arguably, one of the most critical characters was that of young Henry Wheeler. Thirteen-year-old Gattlin Griffith had only done small roles in film and television, most notably opposite Angelina Jolie in 'The Changeling," but his castmates and the filmmakers agree that he more than held his own.
'The true discovery of this film is Gattlin Griffith…" explains Jason Reitman. 'Deciding who was going to play Henry really was the hardest casting decision of my life. Gattlin Griffith is so naturally talented and skillful. He has an understanding of how to be a cinematic actor that is almost written in the code of his DNA – he has an ability to do everything and nothing at the same time. He can just step into a close-up and with a couple looks, make you feel so much. He has incredible instinct and utterly understood how to relay all that emotional nuance on screen.
I felt like I was watching LeBron James – he had the physicality and skill and natural talent. I was so lucky to have put him in this movie," asks Jason Reitman.
Another casting challenge was finding an actor to play Young Frank. When the filmmakers took one look at newcomer Tom Lipinski, their search was over. Tom Lipinski bears such a striking resemblance to Josh Brolin that even Josh Brolin himself was taken aback.
Tom Lipinski was thrilled to work with Josh Brolin and to follow his movements and mannerisms to deliver the most accurate performance possible. 'I was definitely nervous about it but he (Brolin) immediately put me at ease and made me feel incredibly comfortable," says Tom Lipinski.
Coincidentally, Josh Brolin had recently filmed 'Men in Black III" where he played a young Tommy Lee Jones so his insight into the process was invaluable in assisting Lipinski. 'I was asking him about mannerisms or what would be a good way that we could echo behavior back and forth and having just come off playing Tommy Lee Jones in 'Men in Black III," he'd already been through the whole process before and was able to open a real window into how we can approach it and he was really generous. We had a long conversation about small quirks and little things we can do to sort of tie it all together," explains Tom Lipinski.
Much like the roles of Young and Older Frank, another character that we follow from a young age through adulthood is Henry. While he has the least time on screen of any of the cast members, Adult Henry narrates the story of 'Labor Day." For Jason Reitman, this required a strong actor that could credibly portray grown up Henry, both on screen and off.
'The movie literally needed a voice that was intelligent and thoughtful and interesting…" says Jason Reitman. 'When I looked at Gattlin Griffith's face and I imagined him growing up, I thought about the most captivating voices of the current generation of actors and there was no one that held a candle to Tobey Maguire and I just hoped and prayed he would say yes. Tobey has this unusual voice that is simultaneously very adult and intelligent but also there's something very youthful about it, even in his casual speech. Tobey often sounds as though he's realising some great life mystery or learning something in the moment even if he was just kind of ordering a burger," Jason Reitman jokes.
'When I imagined applying that great voice to the narration of this film, I knew it would just expand the story and become this wonderful connective tissue that drew us back to why we were watching."
As an admirer of Jason Reitman's past films, Tobey Maguire was excited to join the cast. 'I've long respected Jason Reitman's talent as a filmmaker," says Tobey Maguire. 'So I was thrilled he asked me to consider the part. Jason Reitman is one of our most distinctive directors, and he has a wonderful eye for the nuances of inner lives and human drama. That all makes for an uncommonly clear vision for the stories he wants to tell, and a style of filmmaking which feels completely his own." adds Tobey Maguire.
Although Tobey Maguire and Gattlin Griffith do not share screen time, Tobey Maguire spent a little time with his younger iteration and enjoyed their brief encounter.
'I hope we get to see more of his work in the future," Tobey Maguire reflects, "Gattlin Griffith is a great kid and an engaging young actor."
Labor Day explores the formidable tug of past mistakes and the chasm of echoing regrets. 'This is a romantic drama that you have to piece together as you watch. It's a movie in which you come to understand each character piece by piece not scene by scene," explains Jason Reitman. 'This is strangely a movie that is very much about first impressions and how deceiving they can be."
The story is told by Henry as an adult looking back at that pivotal summer of 1987. Thirteen-year-old Henry lives alone with his mother Adele. Adele, recluse, shattered by events that led to her divorce, depends on Henry, not just for basic errands but for companionship. Theirs is a halcyon of a small New England town. Neighbors routinely stop by to say hello and typically walk right in through an unlocked front door. Residents stroll along the main street and converge in its mom and pop shops and cafés. But Adele cannot bring herself to engage in this friendly bustle outside her front porch. She is not totally disconnected from society – her friends and neighbors clearly care about her. It is more that she is just outside of it, no longer an active participant.
'Adele is a single mother living with her young son and she lives a very quiet life. She's slightly separate from society and you don't really know why. She used to be a dancer, she used to be happily married to Henry's father, Gerald…but there's something about this woman that you can't quite put your finger on," says Winslet.
Because Adele relies so heavily on her son, Henry is forced to grow up much quicker than his peers.
'He's stuck in between childhood and adulthood. He can't talk to his mom about what he's going through because she's emotionally distressed and a shut-in. With his dad, he feels like he's no longer a part of his life because he has moved on so he has to take care of his mom and be the man of the house," explains Gattlin Griffith.
It doesn't help that her ex-husband Gerald (Clark Gregg) has so completely reinvented his life. 'Gerald is not that connected to his own son and doesn't seem engaged with the boy's life. He has moved on and has this other family. That's certainly something that we've seen a lot in life; people move on and they don't necessarily take care of what is left behind. But then, as the story unfolds, we see the man he once was and the connection that he and Adele once shared, which led to Gerald's own heartbreak when he couldn't take the intensity of their relationship anymore," says Clark Gregg.
As Adele's emotional state continues to deteriorate, Henry's responsibilities as caretaker increase in direct proportion.
'Henry is very protective of his mother and he's always there watching out for anything that could upset her, which doesn't take much," says Gattlin Griffith.
With the new school year approaching, Henry persuades Adele to leave the house and take him shopping since he's outgrown his clothes. Adele is hesitant and filled with anxiety but she knows she has a responsibility to her son. What neither can predict is that this seemingly routine trip will set forth a series of unexpected and dangerous events that will forever alter the course of their lives.
While shopping, Henry encounters Frank (Josh Brolin), a wounded man who asks for help. Henry is naturally reluctant; there is something intimidating about Frank, aside from the fact that he is a stranger. When Adele tries to politely decline, it becomes clear that Frank won't take no for an answer. 'Naturally she's nervous and skeptical as to who this man is and what his motives are but he definitely appears to need some kind of help," says Kate Winslet.
'For whatever reason, she takes him home and I think it's only when she has this stranger in the back of her car, sitting beside her son, that she actually starts to think, -Okay, what am I actually doing and what kind of danger could we possibly be in?'" explains Kate Winslet.
It is in fact this fortuitous meeting and decision that will alter the course of all their lives. 'When we meet Adele, she is quiet, she has the shakes, her relationship with her son is that he takes care of her and not vice-versa. We get the deep sense that something is missing in her life but we don't know why. When she makes this very implausible decision to comply with this frightening looking guy, we get the sense that there is something in Adele, a history, a beauty, a kind of life just waiting to emerge. Ulimately, we don't know if Frank has been imprisoned justifiably – but he is definitely scary. When we first meet him through Henry, he's got a limp, he's bleeding and sweating. He looks like he is running from something. And it takes the entire movie for us to figure out if we should trust him or not," Jason Reitman explains.
Once they arrive at Adele's, Frank confesses that he is an escaped convict and that he injured himself jumping out a window escaping prison. The gravity of the situation stuns her… as does the slow revelation that the criminal may not be as horrible as she feared.
'Adele and Henry find themselves in a situation where they have this stranger in their home. Then, this escaped convict starts to reveal his story, who he is, why he's there and that he escaped from prison that morning and weirdly, rather than the fear level increasing for them, it almost decreases as they realise he's actually a decent man. He's a genuine person. Meeting and harboring Frank also begins to reveal who she is really, what happened to her and ultimately explains who she is," says Kate Winslet.
Frank's past collides with the present when news of his escape blares across the television screen, along with his mug shot. Frank reacts by tying up Adele but like everything else about him, all is not what it seems. 'With this guy, you don't know from moment to moment if he's actually going to commit some horrible crime while he's in the house with them or if he's the real thing…" explains Josh Brolin.
There is something gentle and strong about Frank, lyrical and tough. He cooks for his 'prisoners" and carefully spoonfeeds chili to his bound captive Adele. He prepares breakfast for Adele and Henry. He takes on chores to improve the house. A bond grows between Adele and Frank and Frank and Henry. It becomes clear that Frank is not leaving, nor do his 'captives" desire that. Soon he is a welcome part of the family.
'The fact that this guy, who is considered bad begins to have such a positive impact on [Henry and Adele] is what I love about this story," Josh Brolin says.
'I think it really shocks her how moved she is to see the extent to which Frank is able to have a really wonderful impact on her son's life and the way he views and does things. Just to be in the space with a male figure in that way for both of them is something very important and special and has been lacking in both their lives. In a way, she and Frank are kindred spirits who have been living in isolation, but due to very different circumstances. They are both splintered souls and that commonality binds them together."
'Henry's not constantly having to look after his mother when Frank's around and Frank's really teaching him how to be a kid and how it feels to have a father around," says Gattlin Griffith. 'When Frank comes into the house, he just brings it all back to life."
The simple act of making a homemade pie becomes the turning point in their relationship. Frank slowly and carefully teaches both Adele and Henry the steps taught to him by his grandmother and elevates baking to an art form. His attention to detail, level of perfection and the loving way he coaches Adele is a defining moment. There's something tender and sensual and palpable about the way Frank is supporting and encouraging Adele. After the pie is assembled, Frank pokes vent holes in the shape of an 'A" affectionately after Adele.
'The pie becomes the catalyst and reveals who Frank really is," says Jason Reitman.
How ever lovely the idea of this new family, the reality is that Frank is a man on the run. Adele's recent emotional awakening complicates the situation; usually so stoic and guarded, she is desperate not to lose Frank. The pair's solution is both risky and extreme, laced with hope but ultimately doomed.
'I don't necessarily think their actions are sound but I think their heart's in the right place. They want to start a new life without the weight of consequence following them," notes Josh Brolin.
About The Production
Principal photography began in early June 2012 in the picturesque town of Shelburne Falls, MA. This quaint New England town created a serene backdrop for the fictitious town of Holton Mills, NH. Lush green mountains envelope the village as natural water falls carve their way through its heart, adding to its splendor. The team decided upon Sherburne Falls a year before principal photography commenced. 'We were looking for a town that was beautiful but not cute. It had to be a working town that had gone undiscovered and was not a tourist attraction. It had all the bones of a beautiful town but nothing too shiny and it had to look like real people lived there," explains producer Russ Smith. Jason Reitman along with Lianne Halfon and Helen Estabrook then took a road trip from Boston to see the location and immediately knew they found the home of Adele and Henry.
While the town exterior scenes took place in Shelburne Falls, 80 miles east, in the Boston suburb of Acton, is where a majority of the movie was filmed as a private residence served as Adele's house. The house underwent a massive transformation to distress it, affecting an overall sense of neglect and dilapidation, echoing its owner's emotional state. The grass was overgrown, the front porch had cobwebs and peeling paint, and the back porch had holes in its screens. The inside also underwent a complete overhaul. The kitchen was completely gutted and redone to date it back to the 80's, torn wall paper strategically hung, and dark, dingy window coverings helped to create the somber mood of the environment.
As a rule, Jason Reitman prefers practical locations that can be transformed to building sets on stages. 'I like shooting in real places. I don't want to show up on a lot and walk up to a soundstage and walk into a fake set. I like to play in the real thing. I like to drive through a neighborhood, drive up to a house, walk into the house and feel it. I want to look out the windows and see a neighbor's home. I want to be confined by the location that I'm in," explains Reitman. 'I've always believed that directing is more reactionary then creative. It's the job of the director to react to the screenplay, react to a performance, a location, a piece of wardrobe, anything and directors are measured in what they do in those moments so I like to feel as though I'm breathing in a real house when I'm shooting in one."
In fact, all of 'Labor Day's" 300 scenes were filmed entirely on location without the use of stages, an especially great challenge for production designer Steve Saklad.
'Eric Steelberg, the DP, and I made a case for Jason Reitman to consider seriously putting our main house on a soundstage where we could build a two-story set with backings around the outside of the window that would be correct for day, for night, for cloudy, for sunny. We could create any weather condition he wanted. We could pull away the walls where the camera needed to go past a wall. We could give him the exact ground plan, the architectural details, that he wanted from the get go and we made a case for it before we had found a location but it fell on deaf ears," laughs Steve Saklad. 'Jason Reitman shot us down because he felt in his heart of hearts, that the juice of a real location would make the story come alive…that the limitations would actually feel more like real life so the actors would soak up the sense of reality in a way that they never could on a soundstage. And he was right."
Steve Saklad and his team were in charge of transforming all of the pre-existing spaces chosen by Reitman into the environments seen on screen. 'We have to convey so much through the tiny details in that one house," explains Steve Saklad. 'We're looking at the fine details of how Adele has created this house and how it has changed over time." Since there are so many flashback scenes in the film, that house was also shot during different stages in time so even the principle set had to be altered many times. 'It's all about the small details. It's all about fans going in the background of the shots so that we can feel that we're in the middle of a heat wave. It's about the way the paintings hung on the walls have aged the walls. We see the stains where the sun has bleached around the walls. We want to find ways where the house can feel very lived in, very personal and then can change," details Steve Saklad.
Creating The Costumes Of Labor Day
When doing a period piece, another crucial element in placing the movie in a specific time is wardrobe and costume designer Danny Glicker tackled that challenge with vigor. 'When you do an era like the 80's which is so close yet so far away you don't appreciate how different it was and nothing that you think is available today is the same as it was then. You cannot get a Polo shirt today that looks like a Polo shirt from the 80's. They might look similar as an idea of a Polo shirt but everything is different. The same is true for jeans and certainly the same is true for shorts as you will see in the movie because they are much shorter throughout the movie. One of the big thrills for me was not just researching the era but recreating the era and we really did recreate it. We got to research it, we got to use actual garments from the era, to research the aesthetic on it and the silhouettes on each of the actors and how that informs their characters," tells Danny Glicker. Heavy use of fabrics such as polyester, rayon, and nylon were incorporated into the costumes of 'Labor Day" so they had the look and feel of true 80's fashions.
Danny Glicker worked very closely with Jason Reitman, Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin prior to filming to create the exact pieces that would help bring the characters to life and tell the story through costume. Danny Glicker had previously worked with Jason Reitman before on 'Thank You for Smoking" and 'Up in the Air" as well as Josh Brolin on 'Milk" so getting to re-visit those past relationships made this collaboration even more exciting for Danny Glicker. 'Even though it was our third time working together in many ways it was like a first for both of us because I really got to bring a whole different set of colors to the table and so in many ways that was an incredibly special experience for me because we already had been very close and we already had such a wonderful working relationship but to be able to work with Jason Reitman in that capacity, to be able to say, -You know now let's go into my world a little bit; let's go into my world of period clothes' and to see what his observations were about that was a really special experience for me," says Danny Glicker.
Kate Winslet's interest and knowledge of the way her costumes would inform her character thrilled Danny Glicker. 'The thing that I loved about Kate Winslet was she had an understanding of the character all the way down to the slips from the 80's that I was putting on her. She understood why it was right, why it helped her connect to this woman and she always had impeccable insights and so it was a true collaboration where it was two people working together where their ideas together made something better than their ideas alone would have done. Almost everything that she wears is created for Adele based on something that existed in the world but then we imagined how the world was and then how Adele presented herself in it and we had a great time," recalls Danny Glicker.
Adele's wardrobe often told more about her than she would ever say out loud and her clothes reflect her past and her changing present.
"With Adele, because she's agoraphobic, and has not left the house very much, she's also in a state of evaluating what her presence is, what her place is in the world so a lot of her clothes went all the way back to the 70's. It was even more fun to imagine what her life was like and how romantic it was and what the pieces were like when she first got them and why they were pretty and now why they're not as pretty anymore. We get to see the whole story of her, of her emotional awakening through her closet. We get to watch as the clothes reflect her state of being where she has things that are comfortable and that are safe and they're drab. Then there are certain items that Kate Winslet wears when she rediscovers her sensuality as Adele, that are very beautiful dresses that we created for her and really embrace, not just the visual, but also the way that she moves, as a former dancer and the way that she feels, sensually again," adds Danny Glicker.
Almost all of Gattlin Griffith's clothes were custom built for him. Since the movie takes place over the course of a short period of time, multiple supplies of identical garments had to be on hand down to the same missing buttons or exact placement of small holes from wear. The collars on Henry's Polo shirts were softer than those of today, in keeping with the period. The shorts were much shorter and Gattlin Griffith would laugh at how they looked liked hand me downs from an older brother compared to the shorts he wears in real life.
Lastly, Frank's garb was simple and precise. 'We worked really closely with the prison systems to accurately create the outfits exactly as they were in the prison system. We built all of his t-shirts so they were accurate t-shirts to the 80's and what would have been worn in the prison's. It was about this dialogue that Josh Brolin had with me where we were constantly taking these things, which were givens like the prison uniform, but then imagining how they could be part of a larger narrative and how they could support his sort of physical awareness of Frank and sometimes with tiniest details like tweaking the fit or tweaking the cut that allowed him to really feel connected to this other guy," tells Danny Glicker.
Creating Frank's Pie
The primary connective element of past and present is Frank's pie. To re-create a pie built exactly the way Joyce Maynard describes in Labor Day, only an expert would do. Enter food stylist Susan Spungen, a veteran of Martha Stewart's Living. Susan Spungen quickly realised the pastry Jason Reitman needed could NOT grace the cover of Martha Stewart's magazine. This pie had to look amateur and homemade. Susan Spungen attempted pie after pie, following Joyce Maynard's own recipe, but none was exactly right. It wasn't until Lianne Halfon directed Susan Spungen to 'think folk art not fine art" that it clicked in Susan Spungen's head and the result was the most imperfectly perfect pie which was exactly what Jason Reitman was looking for.
To prepare for the pie making scenes, Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin attended a pie making class with Susan Spungen before production began. Joyce Maynard was on site too to make sure her process was followed step by step. 'I got nervous about making pie," laughs Josh Brolin. 'I wanted to be a cook when I was a kid…and I would go into massive shame spirals in the beginning because I thought, -You can't figure this out! Why is the dough doing this?'"
By the end of the film, each cast member was a pie making expert and Josh Brolin said he loved it so much he started baking one every night. Maynard now jokingly introduces herself as the woman who taught Josh Brolin how to make a pie.
The cast and crew of 'Labor Day" celebrated the last day of filming with wonderful pies of every flavor imaginable, each one complete with the Frank's signature vent holes in the shape of an 'A."
Labour Day Release Date: February 6th, 2014