Director: Jason Reitman
Writer: Jason Reitman, based on the novel by Joyce Maynard
Cast: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg
Running Length: 111 minutes
Synopsis: Labor Day centers on 13-year-old Henry Wheeler (Gattlin Griffith), who struggles to be the man of his house and care for his reclusive mother Adele (Kate Winslet) while confronting all the pangs of adolescence. On a back-to-school shopping trip, Henry and his mother encounter Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin), a man both intimidating and clearly in need of help, who convinces them to take him into their home and later is revealed to be an escaped convict. The events of this long Labor Day weekend will shape them for the rest of their lives.
Review: Sentimental to a fault, it’s hard to associate the director of Thank You For Smoking, Up In the Air and Juno to be behind the helm of Labor Day, a movie that would be perfectly at home in the canon of Nicholas Sparks movies, despite it not being a novel written by Sparks. Yet, Jason Reitman not only directed the film, but was also responsible for the screenplay, and it is such a stark departure from his previous work that it’s nearly impossible to reconcile.
Looking past that, it’s easy to see that Labor Day must have had some Oscar aspirations. The film is beautifully shot, and Kate Winslet once again hits it out of the ballpark with her portrayal of Adele. It’s a demanding role that requires the thespian to portray a broad spectrum of emotional states, and yet it has to be done with restraint, appropriate for a love-starved woman who has hidden away from the world. It’s a terrific, engaging performance. Josh Brolin puts forth one of his most charismatic turns ever, and it’s easy to see how anyone would fall for his Frank, who apart from being a convict, is about as perfect a mate as one could hope for.
Despite the great performances by Winslet and Brolin, Labor Day is really too schmaltzy for its own good, resulting in a film that becomes increasingly hard to take seriously. This is particularly apparent in the final reel, where there’s such a massive confluence of unfortunate events that the film firmly detaches itself from reality (and this potentially is more the fault of Joyce Maynard than Reitman, but having never read the novel I cannot say for sure). The film also suffers from mild schizophrenia, none more apparent than the pie-making scene, which seems to draw inspiration from the (in)famous pottery sequence in Ghost, and suddenly switches modes into a cooking program. It is almost as though Reitman couldn’t decide whether to make this a thriller, a romance, a drama or a Food Network special, and so he simply threw everything into the mix (pun not intended).
Labor Day ends up being a film that would work for a very narrow audience – if you loved the Nicholas Sparks movies, there’s a good chance that you will find Labor Day to be a gem amongst the testosterone-fueled pre-Summer flicks of late. One does hope that Reitman’s next project would bring his sharp, satirical eye back into focus, and not be another rather generic, near-mawkish film like this one.
Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)