Movie Review: Labor Day
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Labor Day
Director: Jason Reitman
Screenwriter: Jason Reitman
Cast: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tobey Maguire
Paramount Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 111 Minutes
Release Date: January 31, 2013

Written for the screen and directed by Jason Reitman (Young Adult), Labor Day is based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard.

Labor Day is a major departure for Reitman, who is best known for acerbic comedies like Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, and the aforementioned Young Adult.

A melodrama that dabbles in darkness with a dash of Lifetime Original romance, Labor Day is basically a trashy romance novel disguised as an Oscar contender.

The film, which takes place in 1987, stars Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road) as Adele Wheeler, a depressed single mom who lives in a rural home with her 13-year-old son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith).

On a back-to-school shopping trip, Henry and his mother encounter Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin), an intimidating man who is injured and in need of help. Frank convinces them to take him into their home, where they learn that he is a convict wanted by the police after breaking out of jail.

Over Labor Day weekend, Frank becomes a surrogate father to young Henry and a handyman/husband to Adele, who has since warmed to the hunky hostage-taker. As the film progresses, we learn about Frank’s past through a series of sun-drenched flashbacks that look straight out of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor. These flashbacks – an attempt at misdirection – do more harm than good though, and push the film into Nicholas Sparks territory.

If Labor Day has anything going for it, it’s the steamy chemistry between Brolin and Winslet. While the film they’re wrapped up in is schmaltzy, there’s some real heat between the two lead actors – it’s just a shame their talents aren’t put to better use. Similarly, Gattlin Griffith appears to be one of the Super 8 kids trapped in the wrong movie. When he isn’t playing catch with his new dad in the backyard, Henry is playing with vintage Kenner Star Wars figures and struggling with puberty.

I’m really conflicted about this film. I certainly enjoyed elements of it – the performances are great, Reitman creates some good tension between the characters – but the story is as plodding as it is inconceivable. The last act descends into madness with one improbable event after another. Characters make really silly decisions, lessening our sympathy for them. It’s hard to believe Reitman – a filmmaker who has received four Academy Award nominations, two of which were for Best Director – is the man behind this heavy-handed film. Then again, every director is allowed their first dud – and Labor Day seems to be his.

Also, James Van Der Beek has an extended cameo in this film as a “Officer Treadwell,” one of the many law enforcement officers on the hunt for Brolin’s character. I’m not sure exactly sure why he’s in this movie – nothing against the guy, Varsity Blues was a seminal film during my high school years – but is this an attempt to infuse Labor Day with a little Dawson’s Creek? I don’t know, but every time he showed up on screen I started humming the theme song to myself.


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