MCN Columnists

By Andrea Gronvall andreagronvall@aol.com

The Gronvall Report: Joyce Maynard On LABOR DAY

Love stories are Hollywood’s most endangered species. Forget about formula romcoms, or vampire-human couplings, or the ubiquitous tales of men lusting after their hot, shapely guns. I mean real love stories, where the exhilaration of two people falling headlong for each other is also laced with the dangers such plummets can bring. Real love, however sensual and joyful, is seldom without darkness, risk, and sorrow.

Writer-producer-director Jason Reitman has already made two memorable love stories, although Juno and Up in the Air are definitely on the quirky side. With his latest film, Labor Day, he reaches a new level of maturity, adapting Joyce Maynard’s poignant, bestselling novel about reclusive, divorced Adele Wheeler (Kate Winslet) and her 13-year-old son Henry (Gattlin Griffith). Their rural Massachusetts existence is disrupted in the summer of 1987 when wounded, escaped convict Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin) takes refuge in their home. The attraction between Frank and Adele quickly deepens into something profound, as he takes care of her by listening, making repairs around the house, and showing remarkable culinary skills–like how to bake the perfect peach pie. Meanwhile, Henry feels a rush of conflicting emotions, complicated by his own emerging sexuality.

Moviegoers saw author Maynard on the big screen last year in the documentary Salinger, where she recalled her youth as one of literary giant J.D. Salinger’s secret conquests (he reportedly favored liaisons with teenaged girls). She survived that experience, which could have proved crippling, going on instead to craft her own literary career as a prolific journalist, columnist, novelist and memoirist. (Her latest novel, “After Her,” comes out in paperback in April.) Slender, sleek, and chic at 60, she fills the room with her energy and exuberance. She also has a wicked, self-deprecating sense of humor, referring to her recent trip to Chicago as part of her “Kate Winslet Was Unavailable Tour.” As much as I like the consistently pleasing Winslet, I doubt I could have had more fun talking with the actress than I did chatting up the movie with the book’s creator.

Andrea Gronvall:  Generally, if I haven’t already read the book on which a movie is based, I won’t read it until after I’ve seen the screen adaptation, so that nothing interferes with my initial perception of the film. So, I didn’t read Labor Day until after I’d seen Jason Reitman’s version. I very much liked the movie, and then I loved your book, and after reading it I found I admired the movie even more.

Joyce Maynard:  [laughs] I think the book is always better!

AG:  Books often are! But seriously, he captures the tone of your novel so well. He really has a feeling for your original material.

left-awardsJM:  He does, and he is a man who loves his mother. Jason bought the movie rights before Paramount came on board. He had read the book in galleys, and contacted me in the fall of 2009 shortly after it came out. And he asked if he could come over to my house to learn how to make pie.

AG:  Although the movie is faithful to the book in all the important ways, what’s also interesting is what’s left out. An abortion is key in the book, but there’s no mention of abortion in the film. My guess is that he made that change because if he hadn’t, the culturally divisive topic of abortion would have pretty much dominated all media discussion of the movie.

JM:  We did talk about omitting the abortion reference. Kate Winslet pushed hard to keep it in the screenplay; she wanted the film to be faithful to the novel because she loved the book so much. But Jason’s decision was the right way to go.

AG:  Also, without wading into any potential spoilers here, the film is ambiguous about which character is guilty of an act of betrayal, while the book is not.

JM:  Yes, let’s avoid spoiling. I can say that that [betrayer’s identity] aspect was deliberated thoroughly, but an ambiguous ending seemed to be the only way to pull the film off. And it’s certainly not a conventional happy ending.

AG:  You’ve seen two of your novels adapted for the big screen. How did your experiences of movie-making differ between Gus Van Sant’s To Die For [1995] and Reitman’s Labor Day?

JM:  They were totally different—although, in both instances, a wonderful director, a wonderful screenwriter, and a wonderful movie. Buck Henry, who wrote the screenplay for To Die For, is brilliant; I love his writing. And Nicole Kidman was terrific in the lead.

AG:  Yes, it remains one of her best roles.

JM:  But that said, the two directors’ styles were completely different. I was very pleased with the way the way the movie of To Die For turned out, but I think I didn’t have more than one conversation with Gus Van Sant—not that I ever expected to be hanging out on set, or wanted to be peering over anyone’s shoulder. Jason is roughly the same age of the narrator of the Labor Day movie [Tobey Maguire, who plays the adult Henry], which gives him the right perspective for the character. And Jason has a wonderful team of collaborators who’ve worked with him previously [including cinematographer Eric Steelberg, production designer Steve Saklad, art director Mark Robert Taylor, and composer Rolfe Kent]. The set decoration, the whole look of the film, reminds me a little of the love story The Way We Were. It also reminds me of the cover of a James Taylor album I still have.

AG:  You’ve been writing professionally since you were 18. Which authors do you read?

JM:  I tend to read writers who inform me as a writer—Andre Dubus II, Alice Munro, Grace Paley. And I’ve just read Ann Patchett’s “This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage,” a book that’s been getting a lot of favorable attention.

AG:  You’ve written eight novels, and several memoirs—

JM:  Actually, that’s not completely true. Of the four nonfiction volumes, only “At Home in the World” is, strictly speaking, a memoir. I went through a really tough time during all the uproar following its publication; it was unbelievable how vitriolic people were that I chose to write that memoir.

AG:  Who are they to judge you? They weren’t there when you were with Salinger, so they don’t know what it was like.

JM:  It is one of my books of which I’m most proud, despite everything I went through later.

AG:  But getting back to my question: you’re such a prolific writer—a storyteller, a journalist, a memoirist—haven’t you ever thought of turning some of your work into a one-woman stage show?

JM:  [laughs] All the time! Actually, I do perform with The Moth [the celebrated New York storytelling group]. I’m such a ham.

AG:   Well, there’s already one actor in your family. You must be so proud of your son Wilson Bethel, who is carving out a promising career for himself.

JM:  I am so proud of him. He has developed quite a female following for his current TV series. “Hart of Dixie.”

AG:  He’s a cutie-pie.

 

JM:  He is a cutie-pie!

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2 Responses to “The Gronvall Report: Joyce Maynard On LABOR DAY”

  1. Danish says:

    you are beauti ful will you marry me

  2. Pablo says:

    Heavy on the sorrow..

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“When Bay keeps these absurd plot-gears spinning, he’s displaying his skill as a slick, professional entertainer. But then there are the images of motion—I hesitate to say, of things in motion, because it’s not clear how many things there are in the movie, instead of mere digital simulations of things. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that there’s a car chase through London, seen from the level of tires, that could have gone on for an hour, um, tirelessly. What matters is that the defenestrated Cade saves himself by leaping from drone to drone in midair like a frog skipping among lotus pads; that he and Vivian slide along the colossal, polished expanses of sharply tilting age-old fields of metal like luge Olympians. What matters is that, when this heroic duo find themselves thrust out into the void of inner space from a collapsing planet, it has a terrifyingly vast emptiness that Bay doesn’t dare hold for more than an instant lest he become the nightmare-master. What matters is that the enormous thing hurtling toward Earth is composed in a fanatical detail that would repay slow-motion viewing with near-geological patience. Bay has an authentic sense of the gigantic; beside the playful enormity of his Transformerized universe, the ostensibly heroic dimensions of Ridley Scott’s and Christopher Nolan’s massive visions seem like petulant vanities.”
~ Michael Bay Gives Richard Brody A Tingle

How do you see film evolving in this age of Netflix?

I thought the swing would be quicker and more violent. There have been two landmark moments in the history of French film. First in 1946, with the creation of the CNC under the aegis of Malraux. He saved French cinema by establishing the advance on receipts and support fund mechanisms. We’re all children of this political invention. Americans think that the State gives money to French films, but they’re wrong. Through this system, films fund themselves!

The other great turning point came by the hand of Jack Lang in the 1980s, after the creation of Canal+. While television was getting ready to become the nemesis of film, he created the decoder, and a specific broadcasting space between film and television, using new investments for film. That once again saved French film.

These political decisions are important. We’re once again facing big change. If our political masters don’t take control of the situation and new stakeholders like Netflix, Google and Amazon, we’re headed for disaster. We need to create obligations for Internet service providers. They can’t always be against film. They used to allow piracy, but now that they’ve become producers themselves, they’re starting to see things in a different light. This is a moment of transition, a strong political act needs to be put forward. And it can’t just be at national level, it has to happen at European level.

Filmmaker Cédric Klapisch