Jason Reitman has been on quite a tear as a director. His first four films – Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In the Air and Young Adult have not only been adventurously plotted, unexpectedly intriguing films, but on the quality scale they ranged from very good to excellent. They have received critical plaudits and mostly done fairly well at the box office (though the wonderful Young Adult was a bit of a disappointment sales-wise.)
I suppose he was due a creative comedown, and it appears that Labor Day is that film.
For a change, a Reitman film was released to resounding critical indifference when it was briefly released late last year. Though in general they appreciated his craft, writers grumbled about the odd central relationships, unbelievable storyline and clichéd, overly-sentimental romantic novel vibe. The film came and went from multiplexes with hardly a whisper.
A few months later, Labor Day is getting its video release, so perhaps it’s a good time to reevaluate the movie. Is it as bad as the original critics suggested? (And I must admit, I missed the theatrical run, so that was a mystery to me when I came in to the movie.) Or was it a somehow-overlooked-and-underappreciated little gem?
It appears the original critics were pretty on the money.
Labor Day is not exactly a bad film, though it’s not a particularly good one either. However, for the first time, a Reitman film has totally missed the mark as far as storyline and character development. It is almost puzzling to think that Reitman expected us to respond to this star-crossed love story between a mentally disturbed woman and the misunderstood escaped convict that essentially takes her and her young son hostage as he hides out in their home over a long Labor Day weekend back in the 1980s. (Reitman wrote the screenplay based on a novel by Joyce Maynard.)
That’s just such an odd story conceit that it’s nearly impossible to wrap your arms (and mind) around.
The fine acting by Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin as the doomed couple held apart by the law and a lack of mental soundness does nothing to change the fact that the plotline just does not work on any level. Two characters that we may have liked and rooted for in a different situation just seem foolish, naive and rather delusional to think that they may be able to find true love in this explosive atmosphere.
Adele (Winslet) is a wife and mother whose ex-husband (Clark Gregg) left her for his secretary. In the years that passed since that, hubby has moved on and married his new squeeze, but Adele has spiraled into extreme depression and borderline agoraphobia – only leaving the house when absolutely necessary.
One of those necessities was on Labor Day weekend when Adele had to force herself out with her 13-year-old son Henry (played by Gattlin Griffith and narrated as an adult by Tobey McGuire) to shop for his school needs for the upcoming year. While they are shopping, Henry is approached by a strange, bleeding man who insists on getting a ride with the boy and his mother. Oddly, Henry gamely agrees (apparently no one explained to him the importance of not talking to strangers, particularly pale bleeding ones).