Ric Roman Waugh, 2013
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
|Starring:||Gattlin Griffith, James Van Der Beek, Clark Gregg, Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin|
|Directed by:||Jason Reitman|