Labor Day Review

Posted: July 23, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

labor_day_xlgWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Back when I first started my blog, I went through a phase of seeing as much films from whatever the contemporary year as I could. Not just films I thought looked good, or even okay, I would literally watch anything. Even movies that I thought looked terrible, I’d still watch. Why? Well, because I would review it, and would justify it by getting the film free from my local library. As time went on, I started to realize how stupid this was and gradually become more selective in my contemporary viewing choices. I’ll still give some questionable films a chance mind you, but I generally avoid anything that looks truly bad to me. There are exceptions however, for example, if a film is from a director I’m fond of, I usually give it a chance. Such was the case with Labor Day, the January release from director Jason Reitman. Reitman seemed to be a fresh new talent coming off of films like Juno and Up in the Air. Then in 2011, I released a film which no one seemed to care about called Young Adult. After that, the man fell off the radar and his newest effort did little to bring him back.

Adele Wheeler (Kate Winslet) is a single mom living alone with her young son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith). Following divorce from her former husband Gerald (Clark Gregg), Adele has fallen into a severe deppresion, rarely leaving the house. Henry does his best to keep his mom happy, but he can tell something is missing in her life. One day, the two are out shopping when they come across Frank (Josh Brolin), an escaped prisoner who forces his way into the Wheeler home to hide out. Once there, a kinder side of Frank begins to show and a romance begins to blossom between he and Adele over the labor day long weekend.

The last sentence of that plot synopsis pretty much reveals a crucial flaw of the film and that’s the inherently creepy nature of the central romance. I gurantee most people who watch Labor Day will imediately think that Adele is going through Stockholm syndrome. On top of that, Frank is a convicted murder, and while the film tries to play the, “he never met to hurt anyone” card, Frank’s crime is ultimately very heinous and his prison time well-earned. Now, all of this could have been fine had the film deliberately explored these concepts. If this were a dark study designed to produce discomfort in the viewer than mission accomplished. But that isn’t what Reitman is going for. The romance is actually supposed to be moving and beautiful. As if this weren’t unnerving enough, Labor Day has other bizarre undertones running throughout. While Frank and Adele’s romance is occuring, Henry is going through his first real feelings of sexuality. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s inclusion here feels strange, and his relationship with his mother has some vague incest tones which I’m not quite sure were intentional or not.

Weird and creepy as much of the film as, I’m glad those elements are there because they are strangely interesting, which is more than I can say for the rest of the film. At it’s core, Labor Day is another dumb and melodramatic love story completely lacking in subtance, not far removed from the Nicholas Sparks adaptations of the world. The film is full of overly sentimental scenes like Frank teaching Henry to play baseball, doing housework, or the three main characters baking a pie together. All of these moments are forced, fake, and take place of any actual development to the story or characters. On top of that, I never bought the central romance could blossom so quickly in such a short time span, and that’s inspite of the stockhole syndrome nature of the affair. The film also adds a young girl character who only exists to manufacture conflict in the third act.

I will give the film some credit. Jason Reitman is a good director and he makes this film more visually interesting than comparable works are. The production design and costumes also capture the late 80s setting without bringing attention to it. Plus, some of the early scenes, when seen in a vacuum, are successful in being creepy and suspenseful, despite their problematic placement within the rest of the film. It’s also worth noting that Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin are great actors who do likely the best the could with these characters.

“How the mighty have fallen” might be a bit hyperbolic given that, even in his prime, Reitman wasn’t one of the best directors working, but the overall sentiment is accurate. I initially suspected Labor Day was merely a commercial project to allow Reitman more interesting work, but what I’ve read indicates it’s a story he really wanted to tell. Whatever the case, I hope he works himself out of this funk soon. There aren’t enough strong directors making films for adults, and I don’t want to lose this one.


  1. ianthecool says:

    I understand the watching films because of directors thing. Its why I still may end up watching The Happening….

    But yeah, this doesn’t sound like something up my alley.

  2. CMrok93 says:

    Though I commend Reitman for trying something new, I wish it worked a whole lot better and didn’t just seem to depend on its cast. As good as they are, even they look a little bit disheveled here. Good review Dan.

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