Reitman’s “Labor Day†a chore to sit through

Reitman’s “Labor Day†a chore to sit through

By Karsten Burgstahler

Hollywood romances need two actors with chemistry to work. It does not matter what other lessons the movie wants to teach. If the romance is central to the plot and falls flat, the movie is considered a dud.

Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day” (Rated PG-13; 111 Min.) is one such dud. Perhaps more mercy could be given to the film if it were from a first time writer/director.

But Reitman, director of heralded films such as “Up in the Air” and “Juno,” knows better, and that is what makes “Labor Day” so confounding. Reitman has a signature style using punchy characters and unique situations to explore characters on the fringes of society. “Up in the Air” makes a likeable guy who fires people for a living; “Thank You For Smoking” makes a spokesperson for Big Tobacco the protagonist; “Juno” gives a heart to a girl who would otherwise be looked down upon for becoming pregnant as a teenager.


“Labor Day”employs this type of character development as it attempt sto make a convict likeable, but its pursuit of. This goal is flawed from the beginning. The movie follows Henry (Gattlin Griffith), a boy who had to step in and be strong for his mother, Adele (Kate Winslet), after his father leaves them. Adele has become so frightened of the outside world that she rarely leaves her home, and when she does, she needs Henry by her side.

One day while shopping, a wounded man named Frank (Josh Brolin) takes Henry hostage and quietly forces Adele to take him to her house. Frank has escaped from prison and hides inside Adele’s house, and the damaged Frank and Adele strike up a romance.

Reitman tries to build a new family out of these circumstances, allowing Frank to take the place of Henry’s father and suggesting they can begin anew. “Labor Day” wants to be a movie about fathers and sons, and in some of these scenes classic Reitman emerges.

But unlike Reitman’s other films, he doesn’t have an enthusiastic cast to drive the heavy premise. He lets the romance become so cheesy it overpowers any other nuanced relationships the script places in front of the audience. Neither Winslet nor Brolin seems incredibly interested to be here, and their romance feels so forced there is no enjoyment to be had in their unique relationship. It is such a stoic film that audiences will lose interest rather quickly.

When the romance is not boring socks off, it actually takes some plot turns. It so desperately wants to be sexy but actually comes off rather creepy. After he has untied Adele, Frank helps Henry and her make a peach pie. The camera closely follows his hands as he guides Adele’s hands through the crust and into the bowl of peaches. But because the audience knows he just threatened her life and had her tied up, it is pretty hard to believe there is an actual flame here — Stockholm Syndrome is more like it — and “Labor Day”’s erotic undertones move the film further from the story about fathers and sons it could have been focused on otherwise.

“Labor Day” has an interesting underlying plot to play with, but it collapses around Adele and Frank’s laughable romance. Hollywood should take note: Unless it has a stellar script, do not pair up Brolin and Winslet. Ever.