Director Jason Reitman’s first feature-length film Thank You for Smoking was released in 2005 and followed by Juno two years later. Each of these films was told in a hip, unique, and fresh way that boldly announced that a new talent had arrived. Up in the Air followed and although it was somewhat more traditional, it still had a certain level of freshness to it. Now, following 2011’s polarizing Young Adult, Reitman releases what is by far his most traditional film. Unfortunately, whereas his earlier films were fresh and exciting, Labor Day is just bland and dull.
The story focuses on Kate Winslet’s depressed single mother Adele. Adele cannot even muster the courage to go out in public and sends her 7th grade son Henry on all the errands. One day, while shopping at the local shopping center, Henry is approached by a mysterious stranger who insists they give him a ride. It turns out that he is an escaped convict on the run from the police.
Josh Brolin plays the convict, Frank, who promises not to hurt Adele or her son if they just provide him shelter until the morning. Then, he will make a run for the train and flee the town. The problem is, this is Labor Day weekend and no trains are running. Frank ends up spending the entire weekend at their house and an unexpected bond quickly begins to develop.
Labor Day is based on the novel of the same name by author Joyce Maynard. Although I have not read that novel and cannot speak to its content, the story in the film gives off the impression that it would be similar to a dime store romance novel: the depressed and lonely single mother who has cut herself off from the rest of the world finds herself in the company of a tall, dark, and handsome stranger who shows up and immediately begins fixing everything around her house. He’s also quite the cook, can dance up a storm, and knows how to bake the best peach pie you’ve ever had. As if that weren’t enough, he’s also a remarkable father figure and is even kind to the handicapped. He is presented as possibly the greatest guy ever, which counterbalances the fact that he’s a convicted murderer so much that the scale tips a little too far in the other direction.
There is little of interest in the first two-thirds of Labor Day as we simply watch the connection between the three lead characters develop in what feel like very cliché ways. There’s not even any real suspense as to whether Frank might get caught or that he might hurt either Adele or Henry. The dull experience is not helped any by Tobey Maguire’s bland voiceover and the repetitive-to-the-point-of-distraction musical score.
Fortunately, young Brighid Fleming shows up in the back half of the film to provide some actual life and humor to the story. She’s an outsider who has just moved from Chicago to live with her father and she begins to develop a flirty relationship with Henry. Since adult Henry is narrating the story, it feels like Labor Day should be more of a coming-of-age story for the teenager instead of focusing on his mother and further development of his flirtation with Fleming’s Eleanor could have helped that.
Alas, his story is somewhat lost within that of his mother’s and the film is the poorer for it. It is clear that Reitman still has some good movies in him, but we are just going to have to wait a little longer for the next one.
Labor Day is rated PG-13 for “thematic material, brief violence and sexuality.” Brief is the key word here as the movie doesn’t spend any more time than it needs to on the violence and sexuality that provides a lot of the backstory.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Labor Day.