Labor Day (2014)

110914_galStarring: Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet, Gattlin Griffith, Brooke Smith, Clark Gregg, J.K. Simmons, James Van Der Beek, Tobey Maguire

Directed by: Jason Reitman

PG-13. 110 mins

Overly sappy and unconvincing, Jason Reitman’s latest effort takes a strange new direction away from clever witticisms and towards melodrama. Based on Joyce Maynard’s novel and co-written by Reitman, Labour Day drags along with its confusing subtext and shifting tone.

Kate Winslet plays Adele, the reclusive mother of 13 year-old Henry Wheeler, a boy who struggles to understand what it means to be the man of the house, while going through his own adolescence. On a back-to-school shopping trip, Henry and his mother encounter Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin), a man both intimidating and clearly in need of help, who convinces them to take him into their home and later is revealed to be an escaped convict. The events of the long weekend are transformative for all involved, as Adele – and, presumably, the audience – find Frank to be quite charming. He fixes cars, bakes peach pies, and plays ball with young Henry; there’s a lot to like about Frank, but he’s also on the run from police and no matter how layered a performance, neither Winslet nor Brolin can save the film from verging into some serious Nicholas Sparks territory.

Is it a passionate love story or a tense thriller? Never really deciding what it wants to be until we’ve already lost interest, Labour Day feels like a soap-opera desperately reaching for depth. The story doesn’t offer much more outside of the damaged-woman-in-need-of-her-prince, schtick. It’s a shame that such talent can’t save what aims to be a tear-jerker from dramatically unfocused disaster. It’s hard to take seriously, and perhaps best enjoyed without any critical thought as the underlying messages here are all quite backward – especially coming from the director of such strong, female-driven films like Juno, Young Adult and Up in the Air. There are hints of something great, but Labour Day isn’t much more than a highly-produced Harlequin romance.

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