Telluride: Jason Reitman on Why He Cut Teen Sex Scene From 'Labor Day'
A big question raised each year at Telluride is how far is too far when it comes to challenging an audience. "It depends," said Labor Day director Jason Reitman in a conversation with novelist Joyce Maynard at the County Courthouse Aug. 31. "On the one hand, the reason I made Juno was the scene where Mark (Jason Bateman) makes a pass at Juno (Ellen Page)." Many viewers were offended by a middle-aged jerk coming on to the teen whose baby he and his wife are about to adopt. "But filmmaking is self-discovery masquerading as entertainment," said Reitman, who explained he needed to offend audiences to explore his own emotions. "I had my first child the year I made that movie, and I was looking at the way that closes a chapter in your life, and the fear of growing up."
But Reitman says there are limits -- and different ones for different directors. "You have to ask, at what point are you simply dicking with the audience?" He felt he had to cut a fascinating dream sequence from Labor Day because it might be perceived as offensive coming from him. The scene grew out of a real teenager's dream that Maynard had heard about. "The boy dreamed he was chasing a naked girl around a tree, but he never could catch her. And while he was dreaming, he got the great idea to turn around and chase her the other way. But when he saw her, her front side was completely blank, because he didn't know what a naked woman looked like from the front."
In the Labor Day screenplay, that became a dream in which a boy dreams of a teenage girl, yanks her top off, and her chest is blank, because he's never seen a naked girl's chest. "We planned to do it with CG," said Reitman, but he gave up and trimmed the scene. "Maybe if I were a French director, I could get away with 13-year-old girls taking their shirts off," he said.
Yet at Telluride, Gia Coppola got away with teenage sex scenes aplenty in Palo Alto, from Emma Roberts' encounter with a pedophile teacher to teen-on-teen fellatio to a preteen boy and his teen babysitter (Roberts) watching a scene on TV reprising the poolside boob-reveal bit from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The scenes aren't lurid, but they come across differently in a film directed by a 26-year-old woman than they would in a film from a former wunderkind like Reitman.
Both films earned positive reactions at Telluride for credible, moving depictions of the inside of teen minds, but if the sex scenes were reversed, audiences might have reacted differently.