Movie Review: ‘Labor Day’

Labor Day Movie Review
Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin star in 'Labor Day' (Photo © Paramount Pictures)

Reviewed by Ian Forbes

The title Labor Day is all too on the nose, referencing both the holiday and the act of childbirth. However, what director/screenwriter Jason Reitman appears to have missed is that there would be a third connection with the idea of Labor; that is, just how laborious it is to sit through this movie with a straight face.

What we have on display here is an emotionally damaged divorcee (Kate Winslet), with a teenage son that acts as her caretaker, who falls instantly in love/Stockholm Syndrome with an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) who forces his way into their home and becomes “New Dad”. Based on a book by Joyce Maynard, I’d like to imagine the source material delivers the story in a believable manner. I’d also like to imagine the characters are three dimensional and not some hodgepodge of cliché small town America and the hipster-infused cynicism Reitman’s work seems to have turned into. I’d also like to imagine that Leprechauns were real.

But none of my imagination has ended up on the screen and in mere minutes of the movie getting underway, it was all too clear why a film made by the director of Up in the Air and Juno would receive a January release. Simply put, someone at the studio must have seen it and realized that asking for it to be taken as anything but Schlock of the nth degree was too far of a stretch.

It’s a shame really. Winslet and Brolin are fine actors; and they seemed to be trying. Sadly, there just isn’t any way for good actors to dig themselves out of the hole that’s been dug by the script and direction. The plot is baffling (if you’re into things like logic, reason, and common sense). There’s never any clear tone set, as the film fluctuates from attempting to be tense and going for cheap laughs in an all too painfully obvious attempt to not drown in melodrama. Frankly, I’m surprised this isn’t some Lifetime movie of the week. But saying that, I submit a formal apology to the Lifetime network.

There were only two highlights to the whole affair. One, being amused at the blown speaker in the theater that rumbled whenever the mediocre score involved a deep bass sound. And two, seeing James Van Der Beek as a small town police officer. As someone who freely admits to having watched (and enjoyed) Dawson’s Creek, the idea that Dawson Leery became a cop is comedy of the highest order.

Perhaps the final nail in the coffin (of many, many nails) is the Stand By Me voiceover work by Tobey Maguire. I probably would have been fine with this gimmick … had I been watching a good movie like Stand by Me. Here, it’s just more of that Schlock I mentioned earlier. Now, based on the screening audience’s reaction, this is apparently some kind of mild crowd pleaser. However, I can only imagine that’s true because the movie doesn’t ask the audience to think, use reason, or question the thought processes of its characters.

I haven’t seen I, Frankenstein. But I’d be willing to make a small wager it makes more sense than Labor Day. Knowing that, I’ll leave you all to your own devices in choosing how to spend your movie dollars. I think I’ve done my part here. And you’re welcome.

GRADE: D

Labor Day is rated PG-13 for thematic material, brief violence and sexuality.

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