Labor Day

Labor Day is the first Jason Reitman movie that doesn’t run on sardonic wit and a snappy pace. The sad, low-key film feels like it could have been made by Todd Field, or maybe a Gilbert Grape-era Lasse Hallstrom. And Reitman turns out to be an old hand at this sort of sun-drenched, nostalgic melancholia. Labor Day looks beautiful; it opens as a story of heartbreak and lingering depression, and Reitman’s slow tracking shots and fleeting flashbacks along with Rolfe Kent’s lovely, droning score effectively set a mood of longing and loss.

The plot has the feel of a romance paperback: an escaped prisoner (Josh Brolin) hides out in the home of a love-starved, agoraphobic single mother (Kate Winslet) and her young son (Gattlin Griffith). The guy turns out to be a studly mensch, playing catch with the boy and teaching the mom how to make pie, Ghost-pottery-scene-style. But Reitman is canny enough to turn the sexy-convict thing into relief rather than wish fulfillment. There’s an undercurrent of danger that feels ambiguous but very real, and we think, yes: the basic human demand for touch and affection could lead to someone making decisions this risky.

For an hour, the story feels self-contained and true, in a pulpy sort of way: a wounded woman and her loving son put themselves in harm’s way to get something they badly need. But then Reitman, working from a novel by Joyce Maynard, feels the need to amp up the drama, and unloads a honking dump of backstory that’s contrived and maudlin in a mode that I had thought was the exclusive province of Nicholas Sparks. The film then proceeds to a sappy eye-roller of an ending by way of a climax that wants to be suspenseful but doesn’t make a ton of sense. (Reitman does, to his credit, create an effectively paranoid atmosphere of curious cops and nosy busybodies.)

Introducing the film, Reitman spoke of his intention to remain as true as possible to his experience of reading Maynard’s book. He would have done better to omit some of the novel’s labored explanations and breathless thriller elements. The first 2/3 of this earnest, good-looking film say something powerful and troubling about the nature of loneliness and desire.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

Snitch

Ric Roman Waugh, 2013

Score: C

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Score: C+

10 Years

Jamie Linden, 2012

Score: B-

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

Warm Bodies

Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

Beautiful Creatures

Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

The Window

Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

The Chase

Arthur Ripley, 1946

Score: B

Street of Chance

Jack Hively, 1942

Score: C

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-Soo, 2013

Score: C+

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