Sunday, February 2, 2014

Review: Labor Day

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures. 
Here's a movie made by extremely talented people - director Jason Reitman and actors Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet - that just doesn't work.

Reitman's previous films have mostly been comedies of a satirical or scathing nature that include moments that are truly heartfelt. Here, he aims for sentimental and something just feels off.

The film, which is based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, follows the story of a boy named Henry (Gattlin Griffith) who lives with his depressed mother (Winslet) in a small New Hampshire town circa 1987. The boy's father (Clark Gregg) left the family to marry his secretary after Winslet's Adele fell to pieces following a series of tragedies that are revealed slowly during the movie, but won't be disclosed here.

One day in the grocery store, they are approached by a man with a bloody mark on his white T-shirt named Frank (Josh Brolin), who, as it turns out, has just escaped from prison and demands that Adele and Henry allow him to hide for a few hours in their home.

But Frank ends up staying the night and then for several days, first due to necessity and then because he develops a relationship with Adele. You've heard of the stock character known as the Hooker with a Heart of Gold? Well, Frank is not only the Convict with a Heart of Gold, but also the Best Handyman/Husband in Four Counties.

First, he cleans their house and cooks up some chili, which he hand feeds to Adele. He teaches Henry to play baseball and, during a later sequence - and I kid you not - he does the same for a boy in a wheelchair. He repairs the house's generator and not only fixes up Adele's car, but teaches Henry how to do so in the process. I'd imagine a scene exists during which Frank builds an orphanage in the backyard, but that must have ended up on the floor of the editing room.

And then, there's the now-notorious bake-off sequence that does for peach cobbler-making what "Ghost" did for clay molding. A neighbor drops off some peaches as a gift to Adele and Frank instructs Adele and Henry on how to make cobbler by standing behind Adele and using her hands to smoosh and knead the ingredients in a bowl, all the while as they give each other meaningful looks that do not escape Henry's notice. The sequence is memorable, but in the same way that the one in "The Counselor" during which Cameron Diaz had sex with a car's windshield was unforgettable.

It may sound as if I'm describing "Labor Day" as an outright disaster, but it's not. Winslet and Brolin make the best of the material, but it's the script and plotting that are off here. I'm not the type to nitpick about logic in a movie or point out script inaccuracies, but there are a few here that are glaring. And what's with the denizens of the town being so nosy and suspicious? There's a scene during which Adele asks to take out money from her bank and you'd think she'd asked them for the security code to the vault.

"Labor Day" is not so much a bad movie as it is a misguided one. And as tends to be the case of misfires made by very talented people, it has its heart in the right place and some elements that work.

But, on the whole, it doesn't live up to what you might expect based on the people involved. I will say, however, that the pie looks pretty damn good.

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