February 6, 2014
Labor Day (**) PG-13
I came across a list online the other day compiled by a fellow movie-loving friend, a list that comprised ten directors who had never had a misstep in their career. Filmmaker Jason Reitman was one of the directors brought up in that conversation, which is legitimate since Reitman has scored a bullseye consistently ever since his 2005 debut Thank You For Smoking and continued to do so with regularity. All that is probably going to change, though, when people finally begin catching up with Reitman’s latest film Labor Day, a curious misfire that does no favors for either its well equipped actors or its previously untarnished filmmaker.
One of the problems is that Reitman has chosen to direct a script he’s written by himself, although he pulled off that feat successfully with his first feature but does him no favors here. In the past, he’s usually chosen to collaborate with such writers as Diablo Cody and Sheldon Turner, sometimes serving in the creative role of co-writer. His latest film makes a good argument for having a writing partner that will put the breaks on bad ideas. I can’t but help but wonder if Labor Day would have gotten past the scripting phase if the filmmaker had employed a more objective co-writer who would have been unafraid to tell him what needed to be said.
Labor Day is based on a novel by Joyce Maynard and one that I’ll confess to not having read. I’m not sure if that book is as heavy handed and falsely manipulative as the resulting film but I have a hunch that some of the story’s missteps may have resulted from Reitman’s choice of streamlining certain threads that would have made the story better as a whole.
Josh Brolin & Kate Winslet in Labor Day
At least it feels that way. Reitman also does the film no favors by steeping the proceedings in such a sugar-coated feel that it might not be a bad idea to warn diabetics in advance.
Actor Tobey Maguire narrates the film in voiceover. The film takes place over Labor Day weekend (when else?) in 1987 as 13-year old Henry Wheeler (Gattlin Griffith) takes care of his anxiety-ridden mom, Adele (Kate Winslet). After Henry’s father (Clark Gregg) left Adele several years before, the woman lost any interest in life and has developed a hermetically sealed existence, only venturing out on the rare occasion. One of those occasions happens to be a trip to the local grocer for supplies wherein Henry and Adele chance to cross paths with Frank (Josh Brolin), an escaped convict who assures mother and son that he’s more innocent than it would appear.
The most disturbing thing is how quickly Adele manages to throw caution to the wind, deciding to let Frank hide out in her home and falls for him in a matter of a day. Can you say needy? Adele’s priorities seem to be wrong and if you’re a parent you’ll probably wince on more than one occasion. It’s only one of the many things wrong with this picture.
Labor Day is playing at the Carmike Theater in Hickory and other area theaters.
Questions or comments? Write Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.