REVIEW by Peter Gray
Release date: 6th February 2014
Director: Jason Reitman
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Cast: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, JK Simmons, James Van Der Beek, Tobey Maguire
Classification: M (Mature Themes and Sexual References)
HAVING smartly combined cynicism and wit with his previous efforts ‘Juno’, ‘Up in the Air’ and ‘Young Adult’, writer/director Jason Reitman has opted to break free from his comfort zone with ‘Labor Day’, a far more bleak affair that, ironically, could do with an infusion of the energy he has displayed in his aforementioned films. Managing to keep the straightest of faces as it feeds us some rather sugary material, ‘Labor Day’ comes rather close to Nicholas Sparks type melodrama but succeeds in keeping things afloat thanks to the solid casting of Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin.
Winslet stars as single mother Adele, an emotionally fragile woman who lives a sheltered life with her young son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) who, on her one day out of the house, are taken hostage (in a matter of speaking) by gentle escaped convict Frank (Brolin). With a bloody stomach wound and television reports warning locals of how dangerous he is, Frank isn’t one to be questioned, so when he presses Adele for her assistance, she abides. The film doesn’t take long to introduce those “oh c’mon!” moments we’ve all eye-rolled at in one sappy romance or another as Frank, no less than a day residing with Adele and Henry, starts playing ‘man of the house’ as he ruggedly swans around the house fixing anything that is broken, cleaning out the roof gutters, and teaching Henry how to play baseball. The lack of a strong male presence in the house has clearly effected Adele’s judgement as any qualms she might have about a convicted murderer being in her house are well and truly quashed within a 24-hour period, and when she learns he can cook – the fun really starts!
Frank knows how to make a pretty mean chilli mince but it’s his peach pie recipe that sets the household aflutter in a sequence that will likely gain more notoriety than the film itself. Baking their sad lives away, Frank, Adele and Henry all mush up peaches together in a bowl before working on the crust, their hands intimately, or dare I say erotically, kneading the ingredients together, seemingly filling the gaping hole in their individual existences with each movement. It’s all so unsubtle and bizarre, and perfectly capped off when a nervous Adele, unsure she’ll set the crust right over the awaiting pie, has her trembling hands soothed by Frank championing her on by cooing “Help me put a roof on this house”.
As melodramatic as this scene is though, you have to hand it to Winslet and Brolin for playing it with the utmost sincerity, their professionalism preventing them from appearing too foolish as they spit out some horridly clichéd dialogue. Young Gattlin Griffith holds his own well too, and his character’s brief run-in with a potential love interest allows some of the spark seen in Reitman’s past work to shine through, but he’s a bit too one note overall. There’s a surprisingly decent, and eclectic, support cast on board too with JK Simmons, James Van Der Beek (yep, Dawson) and Tobey Maguire all featured, but there’s barely anything of note to register as they offer very little more than what’s on the surface.
Once again it’s to be said that this is an interesting choice for Reitman, and moving out of his comfort zone is a welcome move, but ‘Labor Day’ really is an odd avenue, especially when their seems to be little logic to these characters. Frank is a wanted man, yet stands on a latter outside for all to see. Adele doesn’t want to draw attention to them, but has no issue teaching him how to dance to the accompaniment of loud music. And then you have Frank’s criminal past, something he claims is false accusation, but Adele and Henry never once seem interested in questioning what he did. I’m all for romance and allowing myself to get swept away by it, but Reitman’s film is playing it too straight for the sentimentality to be truly effective.
My rating 2/5 (Reitman’s return to form can’t come soon enough)