Labor Day review


Jason Reitman never exactly strives for realism with Labor Day – an adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel of the same name – but he clearly didn’t intend for it to come across quite as inauthentic and contrived as it ultimately does.

Beginning with a voiceover introduction to a close mother/son relationship between Adele (Kate Winslet) and Henry (Gattlin Griffith), we are then introduced to the recently escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin), who they encounter in a discount shop. Frank convinces Adele to drive him to her home and to harbour him, first for a few hours and then for much longer. They then, rather surprisingly, begin to fall in love.

Frank is a kind of manic pixie dream convict, albeit one who is rarely manic, who moves into the house and fixes everything up. Including the emotional instability and severe depression that has made Adele something of a prisoner in her own home, and in her mind. Geddit? Prisoner/prisoner. It’s the first of many clumsily delivered metaphors and reachers for something deeper that could have made for a rich text but generally just intellectually signpost things that we should be made to feel.

A pie-making scene at the centre of the film really stands out for its crushing earnestness and over-bearing symbolism. Adele and Henry are given a bucket of peaches by a neighbour and when Adele suggests that they might as well throw them away, Henry tasks them with making a pie. The scene that follows is painful to watch, as the three dive all their hands into one bowl and slowly make the pie, with Frank taking a paternal and instructional role in the proceedings.

When Adele suffers an anxiety attack whilst putting the finishing touch to the pie, placing the lid on it, Frank turns to her and says, “Lets put a roof on this house”. Thud.

In addition to the somewhat nauseating Nicholas Sparks-esque dialogue and plotting there are also some worrying implications in this tale of home invasion tuned whirlwind romance that don’t sit entirely well in the film’s closing moments.

Frank is far too much of a fantasy figure too – as if he is the strange creation from the love-starved mind of Adele – which would be less problematic if the film ever addressed this at all. We also find out late in the film the true nature of his crime and whilst still shocking, there is some suggestion in the narrative that we should somehow excuse him for it. Hammered home by some very uncomfortable characterisations of his victim.

Eric Steelberg’s cinematography is mostly fine, albeit just a little too consumed with magic hour light and orange hues, and the performances from Winslet and Brolin occasionally hold some appeal, but Labor Day really is something of a crushing disappointment, especially given the Reitman’s superb previous work.

This review was originally posted at Bleeding Cool.