With Valentine’s Day fast approaching there are a slew of romantic films on their way to theaters and one of the first out of the gate is Labor Day, the new film written and directed by Jason Reitman (Juno), based on the book by Joyce Maynard.
This film reminded me of a stereotypical romance novel, not that I read many books from that genre mind you (ok, well, I read no books from that genre), but still it seemed like something that the lonely lady sitting across from you at the airport might bring along for light reading on her trip to Milwaukee.
Labor Day is a story that plays well the romantic side, but not so great when it comes to plausibility. If you’ve ever fantasized about being kidnapped by a handsome escaped convict who turns out to be the epitome of the perfect mate in every way – from being a father figure to a handyman and an excellent cook to boot – then this is going to be wonderful movie experience for you. Heck, this guy even scrubs the floors for you.
Kate Winslet plays Adele Wheeler, a thirty-something divorcee with a teenage son, Hank (Gattlin Griffith), and mental issues stemming from some dark period in her past. She rarely leaves her home, but on one of her few outings to the grocery store her and Hank are not-so-reluctantly abducted by Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin), a convict who just escaped from the hospital after an emergency appendectomy.
The three return to Adele’s home where Frank holes up over the long Labor Day weekend, waiting for a chance to make a run for it. In the meantime we learn that even though he is a convicted murderer, there is more to his story than meets the eye and it is all revealed over the next three days. Not only do we see that he’s not such a bad guy, he also makes repairs to the home and the car, cooks some amazing meals, and falls in love with Adele and her son as they also become infatuated with him.
Frank also prepares the most delicious looking peach pie in a scene that will likely do for pies what the movie Ghost did for pottery. There is really nothing Frank can’t do and he eventually convinces Adele and Hank to escape with him to Canada and start life over as a happy family.
Intermixed with the sappy romance is a coming of age sub-story with thirteen year-old Hank, who is estranged from his Father (Clark Gregg) and begins a relationship with an emo girl he meets at the store. The film is also narrated by Peter Parker, I mean Tobey Maguire, who plays the adult Hank who is reflecting back on that summer of 1987.
The performances in this film are very good and definitely make this a better movie than it would have been otherwise. Although I don’t really care for Winslet’s nasally American accent, she’s an otherwise excellent actress. J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson from Spider-Man) also makes a rather odd cameo appearance at the beginning of this film, and then is never seen again. (Maybe he just wanted to pop in to see how Tobey was doing.)
Another issue with this film is its unconventional narrative, which jumps back and forth in time and space to confusing effect as it unravels the mystery of Frank. To be honest I was wondering for a while if the young female character in the flashbacks was Adele and that they knew each other previously – it’s not her and they didn’t.
If you are in the mood for a sappy and improbable love story, you can certainly do worse than losing yourself in the fantasy of Labor Day. Pie aficionados and escaped convicts may also find something to love here, all others beware. Grade: 4/10