'Labor Day' not celebratory as a melodrama
The funniest unintentional laugh in “Labor Day” is the way adaptor / director Jason Reitman treats this eye-rolling, melodramatic romance novel as if he's got his hands on the works of Dostoevsky or Tolstoy.
A genteel escaped convict hides out with a grieving divorcee and offers another chance at love? It's “The Prisons of Madison County.”
Kate Winslet conveys a quivering, emotionally crippled vulnerability as the single mom and Josh Brolin suggests the proper balance of menace and chivalry as the convicted murderer. And young Gattlin Griffith is the 13-year-old who realizes that he is never going to be adequate as mom's substitute husband.
The boy Henry is the one the goateed and bloodied Frank (Brolin) approaches in the small-town supermarket. The pitch for a getaway, first to him then to his mother, is polite with just a hint of threat: “Frankly, this needs to happen.”
Frank assures them he just needs to lay low until the law passes by their house, just until he can hop a freight train in the morning. But he sees Adele's shaky hold on sanity, the ruin she's let the house fall into, her loneliness. Before you know it, he's cleaning the house, cooking dinner and — ever so lovingly — tying her up to keep up “held hostage” appearances.
Henry, who narrates this story as an adult (voiced by Tobey Maguire), is confused. He bonds with the new man in their house, is impressed by Frank's masculine tenderness and consideration. Henry might even learn a thing or two about the fairer sex, useful tips he can try out on the pushy-edgy big-city girl who's new to town (Brighid Fleming).
Reitman ladles on the sap in scenes where Frank grabs Adele's hands and shoves them into the pie he's making, or cradles her as he teaches her to hit a baseball. Adele teaches Frank to rumba and cha cha and — over the course of a Labor Day weekend in 1987 — dares to think they have a future.
Skip past the eye-rolling unlikeliness of this scenario — the fact that nosey, personal-space violating neighbors never notice that the guy whose picture is all over TV is cleaning the gutters of the divorced woman's house — and treasure the film's tense moments of kidnapping and near discovery. Reitman, using a pulsing, quietly pounding Rolf Kent score and a lot of silence, tightens the screws in these scenes like an old pro.
But he's chosen material too thin to support a deeper, more-ambitious story.
“Labor Day,” for all its filmmaking care and care-worn performances, is nothing more than a beach book, inconsequential and utterly out of place in January.
Roger Moore is a staff writer for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- DVD reviews: ‘Transcendence,’ ‘Blue Ruin’ and ‘Sabotage’
- Blockbuster movie ‘Brilliance’ delayed for Pittsburgh shooting
- Lights, action, graffiti: Pittsburgh stands in for NYC in ‘Southpaw’