Starring: Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet, Gattlin Griffith
Directed by: Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”)
Written by: Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”)
It’s a definitive strike one for four-time Oscar nominated director/writer/producer Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air,” “Juno”) with his new film “Labor Day,” a ridiculous love story adapted from a novel by Joyce Maynard, who, based on the way the film plays out, might come from the same school of fluff romanticism as Nicholas Sparks. We’re not quite sure what Reitman saw in the novel to engage him in this project, but whatever it was, he fails to translate that narrative into anything believable on the big screen. With such a strong track record since he started making features in 2005, it’s an extreme disappointment all around.
In “Labor Day,” single mother Adele (Kate Winslet) and her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) are approached by Frank (Josh Brolin), a stranger in a department store, who asks for their help. Feeling threatened, Adele and Henry drive him to their home where they learn Frank is an escaped convict and wants to use Adele’s home as a hideout until it’s safe to hit the road at night. His plans to lay low, however, turn into something completely different when Frank and Adele start falling for each other. Blame it on the way Frank’s manly hands caress the dough when he teaches Adele and Henry how to bake a peach pie or the fact that Adele is a lonely, desperate woman, but the connection between the two is far more eye-roll inducing than could ever be imagined.
Sure, in every romance there is room for a little corniness and scenes to sweep viewers off their feet, but what Reitman presents here between Winslet and Brolin would’ve been better portrayed on the cover of a novel where a scantily clad Adele is pressed against Brolin’s bare-chested, chiseled physique while the two stand in a meadow with the title “Convict’s Seduction” printed in script under them. Their relationship is that absurd. Adele’s fantasy – if that’s what you want to call it – is that insincere. Let’s also not forget the film’s other shortcomings, which include a series of flashbacks that do nothing for the pacing of the film; a secondary and extremely underwritten storyline where Henry is experiencing his own sexual awakening with a local girl; unnecessary and lazily written narration read by Toby Maguire, who plays an adult Henry; and a handful of plot holes, one of which shows Frank playing Mr. Fix-It for Adele in full view of the neighbors even though he’s supposed to be hiding out from cops.
“Labor Day” is a frustrating film, especially since everyone involved simply should’ve known better. Winslet and Brolin seem invested in their characters and are try to sell their love as something magical and complex, but without a script to support their efforts, “Labor Day” ends up being a waste of a lot of great talent, not to mention a long weekend.