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Movie Review | ‘Labor Day’ sappy, overwrought

Published: Monday, February 10, 2014

Updated: Monday, February 10, 2014 06:02

The newest addition to director Jason Reitman’s long list of film credits ruins his streak of creating quality movies like “Juno” (2007) and “Up in the Air” (2009). “Labor Day” feels just like what it implies — two too many hours of hard, strenuous labor.

With Kate Winslet as Adele, the reclusive divorcée struggling to raise her son in 1980s New Hampshire, and Josh Brolin as Frank, the hunky, escaped convict who seeks refuge on the holiday weekend, one would expect sparks, magic and dramatic integrity. What viewers get instead is a stale, overly serious melodrama with some intended romantic moments that end up causing inadvertent laughter throughout the film.

The movie is set in motion when Henry (Gattlin Griffith), Adele’s son, tells Adele that he needs to get new clothes since he has outgrown his old ones. Adele hesitantly obliges, while obviously dreading each and every moment she’s outside. All around the New Hampshire town, neighbors, TV news programs and print papers warn of an escaped convict.

Enter Frank: tall, dark, handsome and sporting a bloody abdomen wound. He approaches Henry and, in minutes, forces Adele — against her better judgment — to give him refuge at her home for just a night. It soon becomes apparent that Frank will be staying the weekend, the two will fall in love and that it won’t take long for the cops to find Frank — the perfect set-up for more heartbreak for the depressed Adele.

While the romance between the two actors was believable enough, the circumstances of the long weekend were neither authentic nor passionate. Without any further ado, Frank begins (in broad daylight) to patch up the house, clean the gutters, re-tile, cement, fix the car and replace the tires. It seems too good to be true.

Not to mention, Frank also bakes. He brings the whole family — which he’s a part of after only a day — together to make a delicious peach pie. He teaches Henry to play baseball, and later on ends up in Adele’s bed, keeping Henry awake at night.

With a screenplay like this, what are high caliber actors Winslet and Brolin to do, other than to scrape any ounce of nuance out of their characters’ storylines? No one can blame them for giving it their all when there’s not much to go off, other than a plot that lacks common sense and characters who are not fully fleshed out.

The editing throughout the film, which sneaks glimpses at the lovers’ respective romantic histories, was one of few aspects to be applauded. The flashbacks to Adele’s sublimely impassioned romance with her ex-husband were well balanced with Frank’s unhappy, loveless marriage to an unfaithful wife. On one hand, it explains why the two are perfect together; on another, it begs the question, “Why is this happening?”

The movie receives a minor redemption — and is saved from being truly horrible — in the relationship between Henry and Mandy (Maika Monroe), a girl Henry’s age who moves to town. At first, her goth-like appearance gives Henry (and the audience) a start, until viewers realize that her looks match her hysterical personality. In just two scenes, Mandy is able to bring the audience to raucous laughter — a much-needed reprieve from the pain of the main plot and Tobey Maguire’s narration throughout the film.

More often than not, Reitman’s film is content to suffocate its audience in overly sweet romance and subpar melodrama. Perhaps that’s what audiences expect from a Reitman production nowadays. Unfortunately, the movie lacked any dramatic worth or viability in its writing. Though it was once seen as an Academy Award contender, “Labor Day” was too laborious to even come close to Oscar gold.

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