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Movie Review: “Labor Day”

Movie Review: “Labor Day”
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BY ALISON BAILES

Director Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”, “Young Adult”) abandons ironic wit for the deadly serious, swooningly romantic, highly risible “Labor Day”….his own adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel of the same name.

The film is saved from absolute saccharine sickliness by the fine performances of Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. But the story itself is pulp Harlequin nonsense with Reitman struggling from the outset to settle on the right tone for his story of love between an escaped convict and the woman he takes hostage in her own home.

It’s a ridiculous premise that might have worked if Brolin’s character Frank had followed through on the scary menace he exhibits in his first few scenes and if the love story had existed in a foggy middle ground of suspicion and uncertainty. Instead we find out pretty quickly that this convicted murderer was wrongfully accused and imprisoned many years ago. Therefore he conveniently becomes a safe knight in shining armor to the lost Adele (Winslet). Adele is struggling to raise her teenage son after her marriage has fallen apart. She also struggles with agoraphobia. A good man, it turns out, is all she needs to snap out of her funk and rejoin life.

In addition to being a decent guy, Frank turns out to be Mr. Men’s Health….all bulging manliness (he can fix cars, broken doors) yet in touch with his feminine side. He may tie you up to a chair….but he’ll feed you chili (homemade no less) by loving spoonful. Who could ask for anything more?

The story takes place in the late eighties and Reitman shoots the suburban New Hampshire home of Adele with dappled sunlight streaming through windows and the warm buzzy haze of late summer in the air. Narrated by Henry, Adele’s son (Tobey Maguire as the voice of the adult son, Gattlin Griffith as the teen), the holiday weekend where he and his mother meet Frank becomes the focal point around which the rest of their lives hinges.  There is some tension as a local cop closes in on Frank’s whereabouts and Henry’s budding relationship with a school girl also threatens their plans. But mostly this story is about grown-ups learning to love again.

Basically this film exists to indulge women in the fantasy that a gorgeous man is just out there waiting to sweep you off your feet with his macho brusqueness and inner softie. The much discussed “sex scene” of the film takes place fully clothed in the kitchen, while Frank shows Adele and Henry how to bake a peach pie. It’s food porn as subtext for human longing. Hands plunging into a bowl of sliced peaches, all dripping and honied…..juice bubbling out the browning crust….it’s hilarious and dopey. It reminded me of Leslie Nielsen spoofing the pottery scene of “Ghost”.

I suppose I should have put away my cynical hat and surrendered to the pure romanticism of watching hunk of man Brolin seduce Winslet in all her luscious womanliness.  But the peach pie pretty much ruined it for me. With his dangerous edges buffed smooth, Frank just isn’t cinematically interesting. “Labor Day” turns into a bland piece of mush that ends like a fawning Nicholas Sparks movie. Brolin and Winslet deserve better. And so do we.

 

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