The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>Labor Day</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Labor Day

A divorcee falls for the escaped convict hiding out in her home.

Directed by: Jason Reitman
Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tobey Maguire, Clark Hregg, James Van Der Beek

It's the mid eighties in small town USA. Adele is a divorcee who lives with her 13 year old son, Henry (Griffith), the only other person she has any real contact with, having shied away from public life since her husband (Gregg) left her for his secretary. While out shopping one morning, they are accosted by Frank (Brolin), a convicted murderer who has just escaped from prison. Frank demands that Adele allow him to stay in her home until the following morning and, fearing for her son, she agrees. That evening, Frank tends to some chores around the house, which has become rundown due to Adele's depressed state. Both Adele and Henry find themselves warming to their "guest", who insists he was wrongly convicted.
Labor Day is an adaptation of an acclaimed 2009 novel by author Joyce Maynard but in Reitman's hands you would be forgiven for believing it's the latest Nicholas Sparks tale to receive the big screen treatment. The setup, a rugged "man's man" revitalizes the life of a woman who badly requires a male figure, is as Sparksian as they come.
It's a highly offensive idea to propagate the notion that a woman is so useless without a man that even a convicted murderer will do in terms of a lover. The character of Adele won't be winning any awards from feminist groups for her behavior in this truly odd film. A terrible example of motherhood, she puts her son's life in danger for the sake of some rumpy pumpy with a bit of rough. Frank ends up in her bed on the second night of her stay, and considering her mental state, there's a queasy element to this coupling. We have to assume the sex is unprotected as, having retired from life, it's highly unlikely Adele has any protection to hand and, having just fled the big house, Frank certainly doesn't. With a history of miscarriages, it's difficult to buy Adele running the risk of pregnancy, even for a roll in the hay with a hunky killer.
Inconsistencies like this pollute the narrative throughout. Frank is serving an 18 year sentence, which seems unfeasibly lenient when we learn the horrific crime he was put away for. The flashbacks detailing the circumstances leading to his crime feature a version of Frank that looks a good two decades younger than Brolin, meaning he must be rapidly approaching the end of his sentence, so would he really decide to escape at such a late point? These flashbacks had me somewhat confused at first, as the young Frank resembles a young Brolin but his blond haired wife at first seemed like a young Winslet. For half the movie I believed this to be some sort of fantasy in Adele's head, until flashbacks featuring Winslet as her younger self began to appear.
The biggest issue with Labor Day is its timeframe. Despite subtitles telling you which day you're watching, the narrative feels like it's taking place over an entire summer rather than the mere five days it plays out across.
Reitman has a decent track record but whatever his intentions were for the film, Labor Day is a serious mis-step and the result is one of the most unintentionally hilarious films a major director has given us in quite some time. Peach cobbler will never taste the same again.

Eric Hillis