Release: Friday, January 31, 2014
I have had wet dreams that were more realistic than this — and more satisfying, too!
Jason Reitman (who directed noteworthy films like Up in the Air and Thank You For Smoking) attempts to sweep audiences off their feet with an untraditional approach to a very traditional genre. Labor Day is, in a certain sense, a fantasy since it banks so desperately on the hope that an illogical premise is overlooked in favor of the strengths of two reliable (and attractive) thespians. That part in parentheses is really the key: these people may be down on hard times, but my God, do they still look young and sexy. And that peach pie scene. . . whoa, buddy! How about we pump the brakes for a second.
The extent to which most of this set-up fails proves that this is mostly a delusional dream and not a romance digging its toes into the terra firma of reality.
Labor Day finds Kate Winslet playing an emotionally detached divorcée named Adele. She has a thirteen-year-old son named Henry (Gattlin Griffith) whose quiet, albeit poignant observations of his grieving mother are intended to guide us through the events of an unusual Labor Day weekend.
Since splitting from Gerald (a wasted Clark Gregg), Adele has taken up shelter in her home and rarely leaves, save for the odd grocery store run. On one such outing Henry is checking out some magazines to potentially take home (yes, those kind) when a man emerges out of nowhere, bleeding, and insists that he and Adele help him out for a few hours. The man is at once intimidating, assertive, and conveniently handsome. (Honestly, when are fantasies ever likely to include the ugly?) They awkwardly oblige to drive him back to their home, where he quickly reveals that he’s escaped from a second-story hospital room but only after managing to escape from prison sometime earlier. Both of these facilities should consider re-evaluating their security standards.
Much to Adele and Henry’s surprise this man, Frank, seems well-intentioned. He doesn’t resort to violence when forcing them to take him home, nor does he really seem to rise to anger. He’s even conscientious about what he’s doing; he implores with Adele to let him stay until nightfall, just enough time to let him rest his wounded body before going on the run again. This time frame of course extends into the next morning, and then the following day and then the day after that. He is a fugitive whose motives may differ from those of Adele but his actions parallel hers. These damaged souls are content to stow themselves away from a world seemingly out to get them.
There’s the occasional moment that makes Reitman’s latest film one worth laboring through, but chalk that up mostly to Winslet’s ability to appear vulnerable, afraid, as she must here. Together with Brolin she tries her best to buck the monotonous melancholy more than a few times, though this is perhaps the reason we awake from the fantasy in a cold sweat. The fact that these two form enough of a bond over the course of a weekend to generate feelings akin to love is a little hard to believe. Then again, wet dreams have never been very practical.
Speaking of all things practical, the perspective Reitman selects is hardly one of them, despite his film being an adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel of the same name. In fact in some places the perspective becomes downright bizarre. The story is intended to be filtered through Henry’s experience, yet the adults take center stage far too often. Barring a few creepy moments in which the young kid experiences not only the emotional changes that are suddenly taking place within the house but the physical ones as well, Henry’s character is relegated to the sidelines.
The only hint we get that this is told from the kid’s perspective is the usage of a voiceover that is read by an instantly forgettable Tobey Maguire (who shows up on screen for quite literally a few seconds as a twenty-something Henry late in the film). This none-too-subtle narration calls into question whether or not Maynard’s work should have been adapted for the screen. There are books out there that don’t necessarily lend themselves to the film treatment. Admittedly, her premise is intriguing, but it’s difficult to ignore the nagging feeling that much is lost in translation. Whereas Labor Day the film feels like an utter contrivance of the way in which human relationships develop, the book surely had more room to stretch these legs.
Heartfelt performances abound, and Brolin manages to hold his own when put up against an actress of Winslet’s stature surprisingly well, but their charm is not enough to overcome the many weaknesses inherent in this little dreamworld.
Recommendation: Talk about unrealistic expectations. It’s as if Rietman is channeling his inner Nicholas Sparks in this often cheesy and constantly eye-roll-inducing story about two people who go from complete strangers to passionate lovers in the space of a few days. If you also subscribe to the notion that the police are idiots who can’t do their jobs correctly, this is a film you have to see. There is absolutely no way any of this would go down in reality like so. But then again, there goes my overly analytical mind. Someone once told me, why can’t you let things just be nice? I should let that someone know that in this case, I really tried hard. I did. Maybe some of you out there will have more success.
Running Time: 111 mins.
Quoted: “I’d take twenty more years just to have another three days with you.”
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