Labor Day


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet in Labor Day
"The ingredients may look to be all there but Reitman's effort feels too full of studio additives and overcooked." | Photo: Indian Paintbrush

Earlier this year, David Lowery took a magic hour-drenched, mythic vibe and lovingly crafted Ain't Them Bodies Saints, a tale of love and possible redemption. Now, Jason Reitman takes surprisingly similar elements - a conviction that may have more to it than it seems, a woman at home alone with a child, and an unexpected possibility of romance - and employs similar sun-dappled lensing to concoct the mawkish misfire that is Labor Day. As Heston Blumenthal - or even Reitman's male protagonist Frank, who is also a whizz in the kitchen - would probably tell him, the ingredients may look to be all there but without the right chemistry and combination, the end result will be a disaster.

And in this movie bake-off, Lowery produced something natural, airy and light with a lingering and unique flavour, while Reitman's effort feels too full of studio additives and overcooked.

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This is not the fault of Kate Winslet, who gives the central role of Adele her best shot. She's divorced and living in her somewhat rundown home with her young son Henry (Gattlin Griffith, also perfectly fine), whose adult voice - courtesy of recent narration go-to-guy Tobey Maguire - relates much of the back story. Adele is borderline agoraphobic, for reasons that will become apparent as the film progresses, relying on 13-year-old Henry to do many of the chores, such as banking, for her, while steeling herself to make the once-a-month trek to the local supermarket for canned goods. On a trip there at the start of Labor Day weekend, their path crosses that of escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin, who is clearly getting plenty of hair dye on the prison black market)... and their lives will never be quite the same again.

Frank - who has escaped by leaping out of a window after an appendix op - insists that they take him home. On arrival, instead of proving himself to be a bullish thug, he sets about doing a spot of cooking and, though tying up Adele for appearances in case the police arrive, the moment he blows on a spoonful of her chilli, you know that romance, implausibly, is about to be born. Over a longer time period - or perhaps in a short film - this premise might just work, but as Frank embarks on a home improvement montage that makes him look like he's taking part in some sort of weird reality TV show called Convict Cleaner For A Day, many will find it hard to stifle giggles. Frank doesn't just wash the floor, he waxes it, too and the sequence in which he shows Adele and Henry how to cook the perfect peach pie recalls the ridiculousness of the potter's wheel scene in Ghost. Oh, and he still finds time to give a young disabled boy the day of his life and teach Henry how to throw a baseball.

On paper, some of this must have looked good - the dappled sunlight falling through the trees or flashback scenes of waving cornfields caught in a dusky glow. In practice, however, it all feels too manufactured. You don't believe for a moment that a woman as lonely and lost as Adele would need little more than a hand on her calf to reawaken longing and cure her psychological demons or that the on-the-run Frank would be quite so relaxed as to pop outside to do a spot of gutter cleaning or barbecuing without so much as a qualm that he might be spotted by the neighbours. The idea of a youngster taking to a new father figure quite so readily is also a reach. Meanwhile, in the way of Hollywood, the aftermath of Frank's surgery is cheerfully forgotten until it is needed for an easy story manoevure.

In the middle of this sentimentality is a brittle and bright little subplot involving Henry and his friendship with a feisty newcomer to town (Brighid Fleming), which - leaving aside the fact that they coincidentally meet in the library(!) on a Sunday(?) on a Bank Holiday Weekend(?!) - is the only part of the film that has a real heartbeat. Theirs is a story you would pay to see. The rest would be better confined to an afternoon on the Hallmark Channel.

Reviewed on: 23 Oct 2013
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A depressed woman and her son find their lives changed by an encounter with a convict on the run.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ****

Director: Jason Reitman

Writer: Jason Reitman, based on the novel by Joyce Maynard

Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tobey Maguire, Clark Gregg, Brighid Fleming, JK Simmons

Year: 2013

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


London 2013

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If you like this, try:

Ain't Them Bodies Saints