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 411mania » Movies » Film Reviews

Labor Day Review
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 01.31.2014

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 and one fateful weekend in their lives and 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), an early teen that 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, and now he’s encouraging Henry to choose to live with him due to Adele emotionally hanging by a thread. Things take a dramatic shift, though, 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 hightail it 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. He starts fixing things up around their home and doing chores. He plays a game of catch with Henry. He 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 start having an affair over Labor Day weekend. The new unlikely family unit then sloppily keep 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 emotionally starved for love mother is going to abandon him to be with Frank, which upsets him since he has a rather *close* relationship with his mom. This is affected by his talks with an acquaintance he makes with a new girl in town his age, Eleanor (Fleming), who adds fuel to the fiery worries in Henry’s mind with her talk of sex fiends and addictions.

Brolin and Winslet do well as can be expected with the material. Their approach comes off as sincere, but the scenes and dialogue they recite are downright absurd and at times unintentionally hilarious. The characters and their dialogue at times appear to be completely s 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.

Now the movie isn’t 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 he’s telling comes out 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 with his direction very well. The movie opts for a unique, rural setting in a small town in New Hampshire that provides a nice change of pace. The setting is interesting being in the 1980's because at times the timeframe comes off much older, but other times as much more contemporary or recent. For the 1980's, that feels 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 in depicting the backstory of Frank character is interspersed throughout the narrative. These sequences though 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. But the interspersed scenes of Young Frank (Lipinski) are clumsily 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 411Labor Day is an interesting attempt by Jason Reitman to try and do something different and unlike all of his previous outings. While he 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 one absurd cinematic romance I couldn't find myself suspending disbelief for.
Final Score:  5.5   [ Not So Good ]  legend


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