Thursday, October 31, 2013

The "Labor Day" Trailer Looks Good, But Probably Not Oscar-Worthy

Left to right: Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin
With October officially reaching the end of the line, it does feel like every potential Oscar contender has at very least released a teaser trailer. This is true for every film that is on statistics website Gold Derby's top 10 current Best Picture potential nominees. That is why is surprising that one of the most anticipated films of the year, director Jason Reitman's Labor Day, has waited this long to finally release a trailer with its Christmas Day limited release quickly approaching. Even with plans to expand in 2014, it almost feels like the release of the trailer parallels the film's actual level of buzz at the current moment, which almost seems to be flat lined. Hopefully things will turn around.

As stated back in September, Jason Reitman is one of my favorite modern directors. His look at contemporary American life has produced an amazing, nearly flawless catalog that includes back-to-back Best Picture nominees Juno and Up in the Air. Even with Young Adult, his exploration of nostalgia with the help of Diablo Cody produced a fine slice of dark comedy unlike most things out there. I was eagerly awaiting anything that he did next, and Labor Day looks to be just that. 

The casting is also intriguing, as it includes Best Supporting Actor nominee Josh Brolin (Milk) and Best Actress nominee Kate Winslet (The Reader). The rest of the cast may not be as immediately grabbing as these two names, but when considering that Reitman famously incorporated real people into scenes of Up in the Air, he managed to create something more real and personal. Even if majority of these names are just smaller performers, there is a good chance that they will shine, especially since Reitman knows how to get great performances out of his stars.

In one of the strangest moves that could happen, Labor Day's trailer premiered today on Halloween. It has very little to do with horror, but it does almost seem to reflect a lopsided beginning to a marketing campaign. Check out the trailer:

In some ways, the immediate reaction was to compare the plot as a more mainstream version of Ain't Them Bodies Saints with the romance between criminal Frank (Brolin) and housewife Adele (Winslet) almost seeming like another example of forbidden love. The other immediate notion is that this feels like a different type of Reitman film. It doesn't feel like it has even the subtle comedic tones that have made his work so unique. This feels like a more traditional drama with voice-over by Tobey Maguire. All of the points are hit upon and the motivations are understood, but it does feel a little uninteresting compared to what he has done before.

The one consolation is that this could just be a lousy trailer. The treatment for Up in the Air feels rather reminiscent considering that the film also suffered from boring, overlong trailers. It defied the expectations, earned a Best Picture nomination, and held my vote for the film that should have won. With reviews that came out of Telluride in August, it was a very divisive movie.   While it appeared to be well acted, there was also concern over its straightforward nature. It could also be that because Reitman isn't as accepted as a director of dark dramas, that he doesn't quite tonally hit all of the marks. It is tough to say, though the trailer doesn't help the cause.

With it entering the game rather late, it does raise the question on if the film stands any chance of competing against the already established racers. Even opening on Christmas Day against a slew of most likely nominees such as The Wolf of Wall Street, it probably won't get as much attention as the bigger names. It may play better when it opens wide in January, but as a strategy for consideration, opening during the last week of December is always tricky, and this year looks exceptionally hard. 

Even looking at the Gold Derby standings as of right now, Labor Day comes in at #23 on the Best Picture list with odds of 100:1. Even Winslet, who is usually regarded as one of the greatest actresses of her generation, doesn't seem to be faring too well in the Best Actress race with odds of 100:1. While this introduction in the race could give it a slow rise to more popularity, it does have to compete with a lot of forces. One of the strangest occurrences is the rise of director Nichole Holofcenter's Enough Said, which has slowly risen and the late James Gandolfini sits with in the Best Supporting Actor race at #6 with odds of 33:1. While it is possible that his nomination would be more of a commemorative one, it does reflect a film that has used a slow build in order to get its credibility noticed. 

Even if this isn't one of Reitman's Best Picture contenders, it does seem problematic that it will get proper attention at all. Even with a solid cast, this film barely seems to be existing. The race, for the most part, has already been established with 12 Years a Slave and Gravity already seeming like bonafide locks. Even Captain Phillips, which pales in comparison, has gotten some serious traction. The 5-10 sliding scale for nominations continues to make the game unnecessarily interesting and only makes it harder to see Labor Day making the cut. There have been surprises before, and since Reitman has been nominated twice before, he does stand a chance of scooting in based on bias.

It still remains one of my most anticipated films of 2013, yet I don't see Labor Day playing into the race at all. The subtext that could be taken from releasing a trailer on Halloween alone suggests that the promotions are a little misguided. The trailer doesn't do a great job of selling the film as exciting or authentically Reitman, but it does look good enough to be entertaining. It has been a busy year and most of the nominees have already staked their claims. Maybe it was unintentional, but by waiting until the last moment to release footage, it almost feels like Labor Day missed the cut to be a huge contender in the race.

Do you think Labor Day will get nominated based on bias? Is Jason Reitman capable of translating his style to darker dramas? Is Kate Winslet capable of pulling in a surprise nomination considering her five previous nominations and one win?

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