2013 Toronto Film Festival

'Labor Day' (2013) Movie Review - Toronto Film Festival

A half-baked melodrama worthy of Nicholas Sparks, not Jason Reitman

Labor Day movie review
Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin and Gattlin Griffith in Labor Day
Photo: Paramount Pictures

I don't know where to begin with Jason Reitman's Labor Day. Adapted from the novel by Joyce Maynard, you could have told me it was a Nicholas Sparks adaptation and I wouldn't have second guessed the statement. I can't tell if Reitman is having fun with his audience and has actually made a parody of a Sparks adaptation or if he takes this schlock seriously. Either way, it doesn't work.

'Labor Day'
Review
Grade: D

Labor Day"Labor Day" is a Paramount Pictures release, directed by and is rated PG-13 for thematic material, brief violence and sexuality. The running time is .

The cast includes , , , , , , , , , , and .

For more information on this film including pictures, trailers and a detailed synopsis .

To begin, Labor Day has something of an identity crisis as it's unsure which character it wants to focus on. The voice over that introduces the film is read by Tobey Maguire playing an older Henry Wheeler, the young 13-year-old (Gattlin Griffith) seen throughout the entirety of the film, and son to Adele (Kate Winslet), a woman that has retreated within herself forcing Henry to be the man of the house.

Adele was left by her husband (Clark Gregg) when he couldn't handle her depression and, though he was given the chance to leave, Henry stays by his mother's side, recognizing her pain and doing what he can to help, including homemade coupon books that read "Husband for a Day". But even he knows there are certain things a son can't provide. In short, Adele and Henry need a man in their lives, and their need is about to be fulfilled in the most unorthodox of ways.

Shopping for school clothes just before Labor Day weekend, Adele and Henry are confronted by escaped convict Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin) at the local Pricemart. Bleeding and limping, he convinces them to take him to their house where he can rest for a spell and then be on his way.

I assume you can see where all this is heading.

Once home it doesn't become the tense situation you'd imagine, even though the local news warns us Frank was in prison for murder and escaped by jumping out of a second story hospital window shortly after having his appendix removed. Everyone is a little on edge, but this isn't your standard convict.

Frank begins fixing a few things up around the house, changing the oil in Adele's car, cleaning the gutters, teaching Henry how to play baseball and, the real kicker, Frank is quite the chef. After treating Adele and Henry to homemade chili the first night and homemade biscuits the next morning, it isn't until he makes use of a ripe bucket of peaches that Labor Day finally became nearly intolerable. After describing the process as if he was Fabio with a cooking show, all three of them start digging their hands in a bowl of cut peaches, mixing the ingredients with cinematographer Eric Steelberg getting his camera all the way in there. It's a foodie ménage à trois and considering it involves a mother and son along with a convicted murderer, it's more than a little weird.

As Frank hides out, a series of misplaced flashbacks begin revealing back-story on Frank and Adele while Henry goes out and randomly strikes up a relationship with some weird girl (Brighid Fleming) whose hair seems to be perpetually dirty and seems to fancy herself as some sort of wise, all-knowing oracle when it comes to broken families. Labor Day thrives on this kind of plot development and manipulation as the wrong thing continually happens or is said at just the "right" time. The third act is loaded with such contrivances to the point I could only sigh and shake my head.

This film can't decide if it's about Adele, Frank or Henry and Reitman can't balance the wealth of emotions the three bring to the story. Obviously both Adele and Henry are longing for a male in their lives, but both for different reasons. Frank seems to qualify as savior for both, but at the same time the living situation is ridiculous. Then you add Frank's story into the mix and not only does it feel entirely disingenuous, but the way in which Reitman uses flashbacks to add additional layers to both his and Adele's characters you can't help but feel manipulated, not to mention confused as neither seem to really be fully fleshed out or complete.

All that said, I can't fault the performances or Reitman's crew. Even though I found close to zero enjoyment in the film, Winslet (channeling her "Mildred Peirce" performance, updated for the mid-'80s), Brolin and Griffith are great, the latter especially. Griffith was fantastic in Clint Eastwood's Changeling five years ago and here he proves he's growing into a fine young talent with plenty of power behind his eyes.

Success is also found behind the camera with some fantastic camerawork and lighting from Steelberg, fluidly negotiating scenes throughout Adele's house and delivering shots such as the one at the top of this review, almost appearing to be a still-life capture rather than a snippet of a moving image. In fact, the shot is better left to decipher without seeing the film, which is the movie's biggest issue.

The problem isn't the pieces, it's the sum of its parts. The voice over by Maguire seems tacked on, used as a crutch for a film that didn't get all the footage it needed to tell its story properly. Add to that the "convict with a heart of gold and a cookbook" nonsense and the tacky third act and I just can't support or recommend this film.

GRADE: D
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  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/navaneethks/ navaneethks

    Was never interested in it in the first place. This confirms to not watch it.

  • BradyD

    This is disappointing. I'm going to check the film out anyways because I am a fan of those involved.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Winchester/ Winchester

    I still have an interest in it personally, so when negative reviews start coming in on something that is of interest can only do what's necessary and see it myself and form my own opinion.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/andyluvsfilms/ andyluvsfilms

    Loved his early work ;-)

  • http://nktkomarov.livejournal.com/ Nick

    Ouch. I thought Young Adult was by far Reitman's best film, too bad he apparently followed it up with his worst.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/andyluvsfilms/ andyluvsfilms

      I put Young Adult on my LoveFilm queue today funnily enough, the trailer looks good.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mv11391/ Michael

    Looks like Reitman's first bad movie, I wasn't very interested in this anyways despite Reitman, Winslet, Brolin and rest of the cast involved. It just didn't look good out of the gate, it doesn't even look like a Jason Reitman movie. I'll pass, i'll give it a shot on Netflix but not interested in seeing this in theaters. Plus, Juno's my favorite Jason Reitman :-)

  • http://couchpotatodigest.blogspot.com Matt Taylor

    Reitman's an excellent filmmaker, but the reviews have lowered my expectations considerably. As far as I'm concerned, Reitman's last three films were all excellent- hopefully his next film will be better.I'll still probably see "Labor Day" in theaters but I'm not expecting much.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Corbin/ Corbin

    Very disappointing to hear. Still looking forward to it, though.

  • http://www.imdb.com/list/aqXTFXDPhQY/ Exxdee13

    I liked the book and Reitman's work :( I have to see this for myself, I thought the casting was great.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ryguy815/ Ryguy815

    Is it just me or does this kinda sound like Safe Haven?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Foggy/ Liam Fogarty

    Ouch, Reitman is a guy who never really appealed to me (his films are fine, just not my type) but even I have to say, being compared to Sparks is brutal.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/nacho/ nacho

    I wasn't expecting such a bad review. I'll still see it, as I'm a big fan of all of Reitman's previous films (Young adult in particular), as well as Winslet and Brolin, so it wouldn't be fair to not even give this one a chance.

  • http://letterboxd.com/criterion10/ Criterion10

    Another film with Tobey Maguire doing voiceover? Great.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Jake17/ Jake17

      It took me a few seconds to remember he did all that godawful narration in The Great Gatsby. I was planning on seeing this, might pass now

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Hudsucker/ Hudsucker

    Seems to be getting decent reviews everywhere else....

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Hudsucker/ Hudsucker

      but hey the buzz is still early.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Newbourne/ Newbourne

    "used as a crutch for a film that didn't get all the footage it needed to tell its story properly"

    That's how I feel about 99% of ALL voice overs with very few exceptions. I think (500) Days of Summer and Inglorious Basterds are exceptions, but other than that, I've always felt that narration is a crutch for filmmakers who don't know how to make a coherent film out of the footage they have.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Hudsucker/ Hudsucker

      Does the narration in "The Princess Bride" count? I really liked that voice over.

  • Rebecca Flanagan

    I saw this movie at the Toronto Film Festival. It is a different kind of film for Reitman and he explores new territory honestly and beautifully. I think women will understand the tone and power of this film more than men, so thus the comments above and the review. Most critics love it while others think it mindless. It is an introspective film; sophisticated and powerful. The acting is done often without words but with gestures and looks, silences. The photography and music adds to the mystery. It is love story and magical. As Alex Billington said in his review, "I was floored." Riveting, powerful coming of age story that merges with the yearning for completeness by the two adult characters, played by Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. Here is one of the best reviews: http://www.firstshowing.net/2013/telluride-2013-jason-reitmans-labor-day-is-quiet-but-very-moving/