Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet star as an escaped convict and the woman in whose home he hides in Jason Reitman's new drama Labor Day! But is it worth checking out? 411's Jeffrey Harris checks in with his full review!
Directed By: Jason Reitman Written By: Jason Reitman; Based on the book by Joyce Maynard Runtime: 111 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
Adele - Kate Winslet Frank - Josh Brolin Henry - Gattlin Griffith Gerald - Clark Gregg Young Frank - Tom Lipinski Mr. Jervis - J.K. Simmons Evelyn - Brooke Smith Eleanor - Brighid Fleming Officer Treadwell - James Van Der Beek Adult Henry - Tobey Maguire
Director Jason Reitman takes a departure from his usual quirky and typical fare with the romantic drama Labor Day, adapted from the book of the same name by author Joyce Maynard. The story is set in rural New Hampshire in the late 1980’s and follows a mother and her son in one fateful weekend in their lives and the impact it had on them. While Reitman’s attempt to do something different is certainly admirable, the final result and execution is a picture that comes off as quite blatantly manipulative and a slog to sit through.
Labor Day is more or less a coming of age story told through the eyes of Henry (Griffith), a young teen who lives with his emotionally fragile, shut-in, depressed, and borderline agoraphobic mother Adele (Winslett). Henry’s father Gerald (Gregg) previously left Adele and married his secretary. Now Gerald is encouraging Henry to choose to live with him since Adele is emotionally hanging by a thread. However, things take a dramatic shift in the lives of Adele and Henry when they are essentially coerced by an escaped and injured murder convict, Frank (Brolin), to give him a place to hide out for a day before he can escape to the hills.
Lo and behold, Frank is actually a nice, salt of the earth type. Despite the rather odd situation, he quickly becomes the paternal presence that Adele and Henry’s home has been sorely missing. Frank starts fixing things up and doing chores around their home. He plays a game of catch with Henry. Frank takes things even further by teaching Adele and Henry how to bake the perfect homemade peach pie. Sooner than you know it, Frank and Adele begin an affair over Labor Day weekend. The new unlikely family unit sloppily keeps up appearances that Adele and Henry aren't harboring a fugitive and also try to figure out a way to escape together to Canada…yeah. Henry is paranoid that his mother, who is emotionally starved for love, is going to abandon him to be with Frank. Henry is upset since he has a rather *close* relationship with his mom. The relationship is affected by his talks with a new girl in town who is Henry’s age, Eleanor (Fleming). Eleanor adds fuel to the fiery worries in Henry’s mind with her talk of sex fiends and addictions.
As can be expected, Brolin and Winslet do well with the material. Their approach comes off as sincere, but their scenes and dialogue are downright absurd and unintentionally hilarious. At times, the characters and their dialogue appear completely at odds with the situations around them. While Brolin’s Frank might not be wicked, it’s disheartening to see a story where a single and depressed mother becomes both sexually and emotionally attached to a criminal who basically took her and her son hostage. Not to mention, when Henry and Adele become complicit in wanting to protect and save Frank, they are incredibly sloppy about it. Ultimately, this makes the movie play as an unbelievable, manipulative mess. Or in other words, the movie is blatant awards bait.
The movie is not a total loss. Winslet’s monologue on dealing with her miscarriages and failure of her marriage is a tragic and heartbreaking sequence. Griffith provides a decent and subdued child actor performance. He does very well with the material, including the more unsettling and disturbing moments. Other familiar faces such as J.K. Simmons and James Van Der Beek show up in some short, but memorable, roles.
Again, while Reitman deserves credit for trying to do something different here, the execution and the story comes off as a schmaltzy mess. This odd case of Stockholm syndrome is played like some bizarre alternate take of The Bridges of Madison County. There’s a nostalgic, rustic tone and atmosphere to the story that Reitman pulls off very well with his direction. The movie opts for a unique, rural setting in a small town in New Hampshire that provides a nice change of pace. The 1980’s setting is interesting. The timeframe comes off as much older at points, but at other times much more contemporary. For the 1980's, that comes off as accurate. But the movie’s plot moves at a snail’s pace, not at all assuaged by Tobey Maguire’s sleepy narration.
The film’s subplot depicting the backstory of Frank's character is interspersed throughout the narrative. However, these sequences are rather clumsily edited throughout the movie. Considering that this is meant to be Henry’s story, the movie cheats with the flashbacks and point of view way too much, as movies are prone to do. The interspersed scenes of Young Frank (Lipinski) are poorly integrated throughout the plot. It's not that Reitman's attempt at trying something different was a bad idea, but the end product was rather rough and clunky.
The 411: Labor Day is an interesting attempt by Jason Reitman to try and do something different and unlike all of his previous outings. While Reitman makes a valiant and solemn attempt, the story he's adapted and the execution was lacking and fails at achieving greatness. The movie does have some solid performances by the lead cast members. There are some nicely shot and somber sequences, along with a unique, rural setting. But Labor Day is an absurd cinematic romance, and I couldn't find myself suspending disbelief for it.