By Jeff Labrecque
Updated September 07, 2013 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: George Pimentel/WireImage
  • Movie

Jason Reitman made a touching and eloquent introduction to his new movie Labor Day in Toronto, the city that’s practically a second home for the Canadian-born director. Then the lights dimmed and the crowd buzzed in anticipation… but for two empty seats in the middle of Ryerson Theatre with placards reading “WINSLET.” Under the cloak of darkness, a young fan tried to sneak into the exclusive seats before being shamed away by an Oscar-winning director seated in the same reserved row. The pair of seats remained empty for the duration of the film.

Hollywood secret: the stars don’t always stay to watch their own premieres. Some have seen the movie before, others don’t care to watch themselves on screen — ever, and for many, their work was simply completed months earlier when the film wrapped. But Winslet’s absence was something more, a fact she revealed during an awkward exchange in the post-screening audience Q+A, in which the visibly pregnant Oscar-winning actress did participate. (Minor SPOILERS below.)

In Labor Day, Winslet plays Adele, an emotionally fragile and reclusive divorced mom who lives with her teenage son (Gattlin Griffith) in a gloomy house in rural New England. A rare excursion to the local department store to buy him some new pants takes a dangerous turn when an injured escaped felon (Josh Brolin) approaches them and forces the pair to take him to their house in order to elude a police manhunt. Though bleeding and haggard, he’s oddly polite and gentle — even as he’s tying Adele to a kitchen chair. He promises to leave in the morning, but when the sun comes up, everyone finds reasons for him to stay. So he does.

Without giving too much away, Labor Day, which is based on Joyce Maynard’s novel, takes place around the September work holiday and includes some traumatizing childbirth-related plot-points, which became the subject of discussion after the screening. An audience member who spoke English as a second language inelegantly asked the expecting Winslet whether certain scenes were particularly difficult for her. “In the screen, the pregnancies go so bad,” he said. “Had you ever thought about you such a hard story in real life.” Asked to clarify by the moderator, he reworded, “The pregnancy part of the movie being so hard. If during her own pregnancy, if she thought about it at all.”

The audience collectively gasped when it became more clear what he was asking. But Winslet wasn’t rattled in the slightest, and initially appeared to be justifiably sidestepping the question (“I have in the past played pregnant women before…”) before veering into it head-on. “Emotionally, it was very hard and those scenes were very difficult,” she said. “Actually, I chose not to see the film tonight because it’s just weird to do that right now.”

Overall, the film was well-received by the festival crowd, which has now screened all but one (Young Adult) of Reitman’s five features, beginning with 2005’s Thank You For Smoking. “This is the theater I think about when I’m making my movies,” he said during his introduction. “You are the audience that I think about, so I sure hope you like it.”

But Reitman was careful to prep the audience to be prepared for something different. This isn’t Juno, he seemed to be saying. “If you came expecting a comedy tonight, I apologize in advance,” he warned. With that, the film began, and with a theater full of the film’s cast, crew, and supporters, there was polite applause as each name appeared over the opening montage, from leading man to editor. The clapping became so rhythmic and obligatory that the audience couldn’t stop itself when the words “1987” appeared on screen to set the scene. The misguided applause yielded the loudest laugh of the movie.

Afterwards, some members of the audience wanted to analyze Reitman’s decision to attempt a less playful, more sentimental tone. “Perhaps it was a reaction [to my previous films], I don’t know,” he finally relented. “Maybe in five or 10 years from now, I’ll look back and go, “Oh, that’s probably why I made that movie at that point. All I know is I read this book, I fell in love with it, and I needed to tell this story.”

Labor Day opens in limited release on Dec. 25.

Labor Day

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 110 minutes
  • Jason Reitman