Labor Day (2013) Movie Review

image of Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin in Labor Day

Title: Labor Day
Year: 2013
Genre: Drama, Romance
Play time: 1h 51min
Director: Jason Reitman
Screenwriters: Jason Reitman
Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg

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

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.

Thrilling with Ton of Non-Sense

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).

The Loneliness and Desire in Labor Day

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.

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