LABOR DAY – The Review
Were it better, LABOR DAY might well strike a seductive chord for romantics: a dreamy escaped convict hovers over a mother and son he’s taken hostage over a holiday weekend. One so full of love, cooking, and romance, it will change their lives forever. But the film, based on the Joyce Maynard novel, is so trapped in a dreary Nicolas Sparks-style cliche-ridden universe that we know the entire plot from the start to the over-sentimental climax. LABOR DAY stars Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, two usually solid actors, but they’re wasted as LABOR DAY neither raises the pulse nor unintentionally entertains and while some may eat this mush up, most will see it as a tremendous disappointment from writer/director Jason Reitman (of JUNO and UP IN THE AIR fame).
LABOR DAY centers on 13-year-old Henry Wheeler, who cares for his mopey, reclusive mother Adele (Winslet) after his dad (Clark Gregg), fed up with her depression, leaves them for his secretary. On a back-to-school shopping trip, Adele and Henry are confronted by Frank Chambers (Brolin), a convicted murderer injured after escaping from the nearby prison who convinces the pair to take him into their home (since he’s unarmed, it’s not clear why she doesn’t yell for help in the store, but it’s that kind of movie). Once there, he ties his captives to a chair for about ten minutes. Then he unties them and cooks chili. Then he bakes biscuits. Then he prepares a perfectly photogenic peach pie, working the dough with his rugged man-hands Swayze-style and whispering seductively in Adele’s ear “Pie crust is a very forgiving thing” (where’s Diablo Cody when you need her? Does his junk smell like pie?). He fixes the broken door, repairs the car, waxes the floor, cleans the gutters, plays catch with Henry, mends Adele’s aching depression with his masterful massage techniques, and assembles some Ikea furniture. I made that last one up but….wow, what a man! (he and Adele sweat a lot too but I’m unclear whether or not they have sex – I don’t think they do – but I could be wrong – maybe I missed something!) As Frank and Adele plan a Canadian getaway, an endless series of flashbacks inform us he’s not really a cold-blooded double murderer at all. He killed his baby kinda sorta by accident, and that slutty wife of his, the one that died after banging her head on the radiator when he shoved her…..she may have had it coming. Meanwhile, to pad out the slim story, Henry begins a friendship with a movie-wise young girl (Brighid Fleming).
Reitman’s adaptation of Ms Maynard’s novel plods along with dialogue somewhere around the level of bad Harlequin, and his direction is sluggish and fails to build a speck of tension. I liked YOUNG ADULT but thought it was a step backwards for the usually reliable writer/director, whose JUNO and UP IN THE AIR were such standouts, but LABOR DAY is his worst film yet. Brolin can play these hunky lugs in his sleep but Ms Winslet can’t seem to get a grip on her character. There’s a scene where she and Henry nervously withdraw her life savings before hitting the road with Mr. Perfect. The bank employees are leery – “this is suspicious” the bank manager exclaims and Winslet’s overly nervous fluttering is all wrong for the scene. Blame the director for not coaxing a better performance from his star but everybody acts illogically in LABOR DAY. Frank’s idea of ‘laying low’ is to repair the roof even though there’s a wanted poster with his mug on it tacked on a phone pole out front. And why is everyone in this town such busybodies? A nosy neighbor (Brooke Smith) with a disabled son keeps popping into Adele’s home unannounced, clerks at the local market ask meddlesome questions, and the local cop (James VanDer Beek) follows Adele inside her home even though she asks him not to. And why is Henry, presented late in the film as a tall, broad-shouldered older teen, played in epilogue as an adult by runty Tobey Maguire? On the plus side, the two leads are attractive enough to hold interest for a while and the cinematography is nice to look at. The camera often pans up to offer a graceful look at tree branches as the sunlight peeks through while Rolfe Kent’s sappy score swoons. But they’re lovely shots in a production prettified, safe, and bland…..and lame.
1 of 5 Stars