By Laurie Coker
Dark and gloomy describes not only the characters of screenwriter/director Jason Reitman’s new film Labor Day; it also expresses tone of every moment in the story. Passionate performances from first class actors, perhaps one of the best of Brolin’s career, kept me engrossed in the tale, but little is new (or pragmatic for that matter) about this story about a boy, his mom and a stranger who comes into their lives. I left with a love/hate feeling, mulling over small details and admiring the cast.
Based on Joyce Maynard’s novel of the same name Labor Day lumbers, broodingly through a holiday weekend in the lives of a boy, Henry (Gattlin Griffith) and his mess of a mother Adele (Winslett). Griffith, like his older costars delivers an emotion wrought portrayal of a young man forced to become caretaker and man of the house. On a rare outing for back to school clothes, Henry and the tense and anxious Adele encounter a stranger (Brolin) in need of help, and for inexplicable reasons, when they discover he is an escaped prisoner, allow him into their home.
Reitman, who gave us the delightfully, witty and satirical Juno and Up in the Air, tries his hand in a far more serious genre, hoping perhaps to stretch his directing muscles, but Labor Day is almost too gloomy and too surreal. A major problem with it lies in the totally unbelievable storyline. It is completely devoid of humor, filled with implausibilities and weighted down by its own seriousness. Adding to these issues, Reitman fails to truly develop his characters, especially Adele and her obviously broken state. How did she turn into such a wreck? Why are she and Henry alone? We do get some background on Frank, but is comes in choppy, heavy-handed flashbacks. Frank is too perfect too and does little to stay hidden from authorities, venturing out to change tires, play catch and befriend a disabled boy and his mother.
While the performances are exceptional and the setting intriguing, I couldn’t help getting caught up in the idea of the film’s slightly perverse and certainly implausible premise. Frank and Adele’s attraction is palpable, in an almost Romeo and Juliet tragic way. I do adore the idea of finding true love even in the most unlikely situations, but Labor Day exceeds brazen in pushing the boundaries of acceptable. I’m torn, between loving the actor’s portrayals and annoyance, when I think of my grade for the film, so I will settle on a C+, the plus for its stars, young and old.