‘Labor Day’ Review
Jason Reitman's new film 'Labor Day' is adapted from a Joyce Maynard novel, and while her literary pedigree holds some water, what ends up represented here leads me to think it's one of those books with Fabio on the cover.
It's New England, it's the 80s and Hank (Gattlin Griffith) is the emo-ist kid in the world. He's got a reason to be. He lives alone with his clinically depressed mother (Kate Winslet). While still new to adolescence, he's basically taking care of her. His father (Clark Gregg) couldn't hack it anymore, but lives in the same town with a new wife and new kids.
Stagnancy has hit the (large, old) house but one Labor Day weekend Winslet's longing for an adult connection will be met. Josh Brolin enters her life and he is the dreamiest of dreamboats every to emerge from a dream. He's handsome, he's attentive and he fixes things around the house. He teaches Hank how to swing a baseball bat and he bakes his own pie crust from scratch, for heaven's sake. There's only one problem - he's just escaped from prison and he's wanted for murder.
Listen - most of us have had wonderful "lost" long weekends with a new lover. Hopefully, they took place in a comfortable old home in the woods like this. (If it happened to you at a Motel 6 off the interstate, I'm sure that was nice, too.) 'Labor Day' feels the need to load its story up with all sorts of histrionic twists and turns, rather than just reeling in the soap opera story beats and trusting its fabulous actors. When you mix in the snooping neighbor and heavy-handed flashbacks, it's impossible to watch this film without thinking "aw, man, give me a break."
Of interest is the strange relationship between Hank and his mother. Their frank talk about sex, and Hank's happiness that his mother has finally dusted off the cobwebs from her bed are a little unsettling, but perhaps not quite as unusual as one might think. It never gets creepy or shocking, but the vibe is thrown out there in a rather blunt manner. It's a topic that is ten times more interesting than the dopey police manhunt that tries to raise the stakes. (To the hardcore movie buffs, we'll always have Bernardo Bertolucci's 'La Luna.')
'Labor Day' reaches its absurd crescendo on the topic of pies. A basket of peaches ends up shoved in the faces of our little makeshift family (and still early enough in Brolin's stay, when we're not quite sure if he's a threat) and their ripeness insists on an emergency pie making session. The motif continues right on up until the end, when a pie-centric revelation caused this critic to smack his forehead and erupt into derisive laughter. Yes, I suppose pies are a symbol of something or other, and there were enough people in the audience who seemed to be enjoying this film on an unironic and non-metaphorical level. If you go gaga for romantic films, you might even be one of them.
Beneath the dopey plot, there are the performances. Winslet, Brolin and Griffith remain, through it all, very effective. Their profound sadness somehow manages to break through. Out of respect to this I am hesitant to call 'Labor Day' and all out failure. I do, however, recommend almost any other activity for your day off.
'Labor Day' opens in select theaters on December 25.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.