"Labor Day" Review- Craig's First Take

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Depressed single mom Adele and her son Henry offer a wounded, fearsome man a ride. As police search town for the escaped convict, the mother and son gradually learn his true story as their options become increasingly limited.
2.5

Who knew Jason Reitman was so hard-up for a movie that he would have to turn to porn? He seemed to be doing so well- “Up in the Air”, “Juno”- carving out a niche for himself as a filmmaker of smart adult comedies. Where did he go wrong? I’ve seen nothing in the tabloids. Usually you can see these kind of downfalls coming.

But here he is, doing “Labor Day”, which turns an average holiday into severely odd mommy-smut. It’s based off a novel by Joyce Maynard, who I can only imagine watches “Lockup” on MSNBC thinking these guys secretly just want to be contestants on "The Bachelorette."

Taking place in 1987, it centers around Henry (Gattlin Griffith) and his severely depressed mother Adele (Kate Winslet). Dad (Clark Gregg) has run off with a new wife, refusing to deal with Adele’s depression any longer, but Henry is eager to fill the void in his mother’s life in every sweet, child-like way he can.

But deep down this is a family in desperate need of a special kind of kidnapper, one who can fill the voids left in both of their lives. Enter Frank (Josh Brolin), an escaped convict looking to lay low for a while. Frank toes the line between being comforting and menacing, he’s dangerous but also a wounded soul. Watch the way he sensually binds Adele’s hands to a chair, then makes dinner, then feeds it to her. That’s husband material gents!

But Frank’s perfection is only getting warmed up. Frank also does work around the house, makes dinners, fixes the car, cleans the gutters, becomes the father who can play catch with Henry and show him how to do man stuff like change a tire. This is all happening during one short weekend mind you but even if it wasn’t, Frank seems to do everything like the father of the year and husband of the year board may arrive to do an evaluation any second. By the time we find out he’s also an experienced pie baker (yes, he also has a sensual way with the peaches he mashes with his hands) I learned something; young girls can have their vampires and werewolves, but the more mature, older woman will always go for the convicted murderer.

But where Frank and Adele seem tailor made for each other, mostly because a really contrived screenplay made them tailor made for each other, a movie like this always needs an iceberg and here that berg is a society, actually a small town covered with dirt roads and trees, working to thwart convict-single mother love at every turn and it’s to Reitman’s credit that you do in some way want this couple to win out, even though you have your doubts.

For what it’s worth, Winslet is very good as this shaky, vulnerable woman in need of love while Brolin is sometimes scary/sometimes Batman to complete perfection. Griffith is even good as this overly innocent (sometimes hilariously so) little kid. But it’s really hard to take this thing seriously. Contrived, draggy, and always a sillier situation than it is a romantic one, I see Frank’s un-ending quest to be man of the year as nothing more than an excuse for quite a few mommies to show up to the theater wearing nothing but trench coats.