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Labor Day is a Big, Gooey Mess of a Movie

  • Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2014 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
<i>Labor Day</i> is a Big, Gooey Mess of a Movie

DVD Release Date: April 29, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: January 31, 2014
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material, brief violence and sexuality)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 111 min.
Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tobey Maguire, Clark Gregg, Tom Lipinski, James Van Der Beek, J.K. Simmons, Brooke Smith

After an impressive streak of quality filmmaking that began with a whip-smart commentary on corporate spin control in 2006's Thank You for Smoking and includes JunoUp in the Air and 2011's underrated critique of arrested development, Young Adult, writer/director Jason Reitman finally has a bona fide stinker on his resumé with Labor Day.

Labor Day is so shamelessly sappy and devoid of any connection with reality that Nicholas Sparks, the gold standard in softly lit romantic escapism, would probably even say "Whoa, take it down a few notches!" One can't help wondering what Reitman was thinking.

Based on a novel by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day lacks everything that's made Reitman's past work so memorable—relevant social commentary tempered with a side of snark, a strong emotional core and perhaps the most important component of all, well-rounded characters.

Kate Winslet (Contagion) and Josh Brolin (Oldboy) give it all they've got as actors, a tribute to their respective talents. But the syrupy script, the mind-numbing plot and the inherent gooiness are simply impossible to overcome.  Basically, if you've seen a Lifetime TV movie and wondered what would happen if an A-lister replaced Jennifer Love Hewitt or Tori Spelling as the damsel in distress, well, you're in luck.

Staying true to so many of the emotionally depleted characters she's tackled in the past, Winslet plays Adele, a frail soul so scarred by the outside world that she's afraid to leave her cluttered house. Ditched by her husband (Clark Gregg, (500) Days of Summer) for his secretary long ago, the only real sense of security she has is the company of her 13-year-old son Henry.

It's during a rare shopping trip, however, that Adele's ho-hum existence is given quite a jolt. While Adele shops for Henry's school clothes and Henry looks at comic books, Henry is approached by Frank (Brolin), a muscular, menacing presence with blood dripping from his side. Insisting that Henry and his mother give him a ride to their home ("frankly, this needs to happen," he threatens), Frank accompanies Adele and Henry to the checkout line, acting like he's just another member of the family. Why Adele or Henry don't scream, protest or at the very least inform the checkout girl, security, anyone, of what's going on is anyone's guess.

Making an uncomfortable car ride even more uncomfortable, Frank lets Adele and Henry in on a little secret—he's an escaped convict. Naturally, this doesn't set well with Adele initially, but as long as he agrees not to hurt them—and leave by sundown—she's surprisingly calm about the new arrangement.

It helps that Frank isn't your stereotypical criminal. Murder conviction and all, he's apparently quite a sweetie. Just in case Adele was ever accused of harboring a fugitive, Frank decides it's best if it looks like he kidnapped her. But when he ties her to a dining room chair, he exercises extreme care and doesn't even bother with Henry. Then in a feat that Rachael Ray would certainly approve of, he uses what's in the pantry to whip up a pot of chili and feeds Adele one delicious spoonful after the next.

If that wasn’t enough to score the "World's Best Felon" award, Frank also fixes Adele's broken fence, takes the squeak out of the floors and door hinges, cleans the rain gutters and teaches Henry how to properly throw a baseball. Really, it's no surprise that Adele is suffering from a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome. Frank is the man she's always wanted in her life, you know minus those pesky legal pratfalls.

Funny enough, as laughable as the movie already is, it only gets worse as the moments tick on, thanks to a supporting performance by a homemade peach pie of all things. In addition to all his other swoon-worthy qualities, Frank also bakes. In a scene that recalls that iconic but cringe-inducing scene where Patrick Swayze romances Demi Moore at the pottery wheel in Ghost, Frank, Adele and Henry collectively sink their hands into the pie, thus fashioning the world's worst exercise in literary symbolism in the process.

Give Reitman credit for one thing, he fully commits to this schlock. Bathed in gorgeous summer light and accompanied by a soundtrack that hits all the right notes of sadness and longing, Labor Day makes forbidden romance look as appealing as possible. But if that's not your idea of a good time, well, there's plenty of opportunities for eye-rolling and unintentional laughter, probably not exactly what Reitman was going for.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: None
  • Language/Profanity: A single misuse of Jesus’s name.
  • Sex/Nudity: A few sexual innuendos. Adele has a brief conversation about sex with her 13-year-old son, Henry. Henry occasionally fantasizes about attractive girls (no nudity, and the sequences aren’t overly explicit). Henry has a discussion with a fellow teen about their Mom's sex lives (the scene is mostly played for laughs). It's clearly implied that Adele and Frank sleep together (Henry hears them since they’re just one room over).
  • Violence: A woman slaps her mentally challenged son across the face. A man has quite a few wounds after falling out of a hospital's window. A baby accidentally drowns. During a fight, a woman dies after hitting her head on a radiator. A woman suffers multiple miscarriages, and we see blood dripping down her leg. A woman gives birth to a baby girl that isn't breathing.

Publication date: January 31, 2014