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edge staff writer


Labor Day' doesn't work

February 4, 2014
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Labor Day' Labor Day'

Love story can't quite put it together

Telling a love story is one of the easiest things for a film to do. Telling a love story well, however, is one of the most difficult. Capturing the spirit of romance without succumbing to saccharine clichs or maudlin melodrama is an ability that can escape even the most talented of filmmakers.

For instance, Jason Reitman ('Young Adult,' 'Up in the Air') is one of the best young directors working today and even he struggled to overcome the obstacles inherent to telling a love story with his latest offering, 'Labor Day,' a tale Reitman himself adapted from the Joyce Maynard novel of the same name.

The year is 1987. Henry Wheeler (Gettlin Griffith, 'Under the Bed') is a 13-year-old boy struggling with the responsibilities of living with and caring for his reclusive and depressed mother Adele (Kate Winslet, 'Contagion'). His father (Clark Gregg, TV's 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.') who left Adele for his secretary still lives in town but is more engaged with his new family than he is with Henry.

Still, Henry and Adele have a routine that works for them, but that routine is soon upset by the sudden appearance of Frank (Josh Brolin, 'Oldboy'), a recent prison escapee who gently but firmly pushes his way into their lives, looking for a place to nurse his injuries until he has an opportunity to move on.

Frank spends Labor Day weekend with Henry and Adele. Their fear of him gradually fades as Frank proves to be much different than the menacing figure that the papers and newscasts paint him to be. Not only does he bond with Henry, but he and Adele find a connection the sort of connection that both of them had long since thought was gone forever.

But while Frank has rapidly become a part of the Wheeler family, the truth remains that he is an escaped prisoner. Law enforcement officials are dogged in their search. The only chance for this newly-formed family to survive is for the three of them to find a way to escape together.

Reitman has done his best here and he clearly has an affection for the source material but the story of 'Labor Day' never quite clicks. Perhaps the book's narrative has more cohesion, but as for the film, too much happens too quickly, resulting in a plot that is more than a little muddled. The audience is asked to accept leaps that don't necessarily compute; the matter is complicated by a series of flashbacks to a younger Frank that take far too long to cohere in any sort of meaningful way.

The movie is salvaged somewhat, however, by the clear and present chemistry between Winslet and Brolin. There's something very compelling about the two of them together onscreen; it's almost and I stress, almost  enough to make us accept that their burgeoning romance is more true love and less Stockholm Syndrome. They're a good fit good enough to make me want to see them together in a stronger story. And Griffith is that rarity of rarities a child actor who isn't actively distracting and/or irritating. He's got a wide-eyed quality that plays very well here and he never seems out of his depth opposite Winslet and Brolin, which is pretty impressive.

'Labor Day' probably isn't as bad a film as this review makes it seem. There are some touching moments and there's a nostalgia-tinged sweetness that floats throughout. Unfortunately, the story never quite clicks the way that it should. It's a rare misfire from Reitman a romance that aspires to greatness and instead finds itself a mediocrity.

[2.5 out of 5]

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