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Review: Labor Day

Jan. 31, 2014by: Eric Walkuski

PLOT: An emotionally fragile single mother and her son are taken hostage by a wounded escaped convict. A decent man at heart, the convict gradually inserts himself into their lives and changes them both for the better.

REVIEW: If you like your soap operas sincere and sentimental, then LABOR DAY is for you. Resembling a slightly more adult version of one of those Nicholas Sparks affairs, Jason Reitman's adaptation of Joyce Maynard's popular novel keeps a somber straight face throughout even the most groan-worthy material. It could be said sometimes that I'm a cynical bastard, and a movie like this certainly wasn't made for me, but I'm not immune to the power of a good melodrama. LABOR DAY is not quite bad - it doesn't reach the hilarious levels of idiocy as most of Sparks' movies do - though it does have quite a few unintentional chuckles and "oh c'mon!" moments.

You may have already heard or read about the pie. If not, let me tell you that a peach pie is the centerpiece of the strangest head-slapper of a sequence in the film. Agoraphobic single mom Adele (Kate Winslet) and her son Hank (Gattlin Griffin) have been kidnapped, more or less, by gentle escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin), who needs a place to hang out while he recuperates from a stomach wound. He's barely been there a day before he's playing Man of the House and Surrogate Father Figure, his rugged yet soothing manliness quickly overpowering any qualms Adele and Hank might have about letting an alleged murderer wander around their house. He starts fixing things, shows Hank how to throw a baseball, clears out the gutters. He can also cook. (Swooooon - am I right ladies?) The man whips up a good chili, but he's got an absolute killer peach pie recipe.

So in a scene that might be dubbed "Baking Your Pains Away," Frank, Adele and Hank start mushing up peaches in a bowl together and making crust for the pie so lovingly it's tantamount to Food Erotica. (Maybe a late night spinoff channel for the Food Network?) Their hands coming together, kneeding the peaches in exquisite tenderness, the scene very unsubtly implies this pie is healing their gaping emotional wounds and forging their destinies. The capper is when Adele, her hands shaking while holding the crust, unsure if she can get it just right over the ready-and-waiting pie, finds her courage after Frank says "Help me put a roof on this house."

It's a pie, folks. It's not going to be yummy enough to bring back the dead or repair your shattered pasts.

That scene takes the, um, cake, but the film is filled with heavy-handed symbolism and lines of maudlin double-meaning. Winslet and Brolin power through it like pros, settling early on their default personas: Winslet is worried but strong, Brolin is brooding but sensitive. They don't embarrass themselves despite the plethora of clunkers they're given to say ("People buy all these fancy gadgets, but sometimes the best tool is attached to your body") and the many longing stares, but neither is able to elevate the material beyond its sappy foundation. Gattlin Griffin seems like a nice enough kid, but he's unfortunately fairly one-note throughout the film.

LABOR DAY paints its characters in patently ridiculous ways that directly challenge our ability to suspend disbelief; Frank is a wanted man, but he has no problem standing on a ladder outside of the house or changing a tire in the driveway for all the world to see. He often says he's been falsely convicted of his crime, yet neither Adele nor Hank ever even seem interested in what it is he's done. Is Adele such a tragic, emotionally unstable wilting flower her desperation for a man - any man - blows away all logic? In Maynard's view (and subsequently Reitman's), the answer is yes. You have to be sympathetic to Adele's situation (flashbacks reveal that her fragile statue is fairly well earned), but the story does her absolutely no favors by failing to give her a backbone. She's little more than a protagonist in a tawdry romance novel, waiting for big hunky man to make her feel like a woman again.

This is an interesting choice for Reitman. Clearly he wanted to move outside of his comfort zone; dark comedies like JUNO, UP IN THE AIR and YOUNG ADULT smartly combined their drama with wit and cynicism. LABOR DAY is aiming for bleak seriousness, almost akin to the Rock Hudson dramas of the 1940s, and Reitman can't tackle the admittedly tricky challenge of giving this sentimental mush the air of respectability he thinks it deserves. In fact, it could have used a bit of that edge he's capable of infusing his movies with; if nothing else, LABOR DAY needs to crack a smile once in a while.

Source: JoBlo.com

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6:47PM on 01/31/2014

Extremely harsh review.

You're obviously entitled to your own opinion, but I loved this film. So, Mr, Wulkuski, respectfully speaking, you gave Gravity a 9/10, which happened to be one of the biggest cookie-cutter written screenplays of last year. (I.e. conversations between Clooney and Bullock while floating about where they're from, Bullock's tragedy by losing her child and making her that much vulberable during a freak accident and space, is a prime a example because it's totally the cliche dialog filler during
You're obviously entitled to your own opinion, but I loved this film. So, Mr, Wulkuski, respectfully speaking, you gave Gravity a 9/10, which happened to be one of the biggest cookie-cutter written screenplays of last year. (I.e. conversations between Clooney and Bullock while floating about where they're from, Bullock's tragedy by losing her child and making her that much vulberable during a freak accident and space, is a prime a example because it's totally the cliche dialog filler during incidents in movies). I didn't hate Gravity by the way, I still thought it was entertaining anyways. But I believe Labor Day is overlooked, especially with the latest TV spots and trailers, with the stupid Rihanna song making it look like something done by Nick Sparks...because it totally distracts its tone. Labor Day feels like an old school love story, just like Rock Hudson's films in the 40s and 50s, so I think the way Reitman tells the story, I think it should be taken with a grain of salt.
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1:15PM on 01/31/2014

Juno and Up in the Air are dark comedies?

Uh... I have no idea what you are talking about, Mr. Walkuski. Juno is a quirky romantic indie comedy, Up in the Air is a dramedy, and I personally haven't seen Young Adult but I doubt it is a dark comedy based on your definition.

Thank You for Smoking.. THAT's a dark comedy that Jason Reitman directed. It's also his best film, in my opinion... that sucks to say, but I just can't get into his other movies as much so far. Juno was okay, but I couldn't stand Up in the Air, hence why I have
Uh... I have no idea what you are talking about, Mr. Walkuski. Juno is a quirky romantic indie comedy, Up in the Air is a dramedy, and I personally haven't seen Young Adult but I doubt it is a dark comedy based on your definition.

Thank You for Smoking.. THAT's a dark comedy that Jason Reitman directed. It's also his best film, in my opinion... that sucks to say, but I just can't get into his other movies as much so far. Juno was okay, but I couldn't stand Up in the Air, hence why I have yet to see Young Adult... and this review for Labor Day worries me that this trend will continue :(
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6:52PM on 01/31/2014
I think you will end up enjoying Labor Day, I for one think it's underrated.
I think you will end up enjoying Labor Day, I for one think it's underrated.
12:08PM on 01/31/2014
This is one of the funniest reviews I've ever read. Well done.
This is one of the funniest reviews I've ever read. Well done.
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10:57AM on 01/31/2014
The pie scene sounds like a very, very awkward take on the pottery wheel scene from Ghost.
The pie scene sounds like a very, very awkward take on the pottery wheel scene from Ghost.
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11:23AM on 01/31/2014
Disappointed with the low score, but I've been anticipating this one for awhile. The story sounds nice and I thought the trailers did a good job of selling it. Will be seeing it this weekend.
Disappointed with the low score, but I've been anticipating this one for awhile. The story sounds nice and I thought the trailers did a good job of selling it. Will be seeing it this weekend.
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10:57AM on 02/15/2014
As I was watching it I kept wanting to enjoy it, but I just couldn't. The climax of the film was so predictable and overwrought. I just wasn't invested in anything this movie was doing. The acting is great and it has some pretty good moments, but there was just something missing from how the story was told that stopped me from getting into it. I'd give it a 5 as it wasn't awful, but it was just super mediocre. I could feel it trying and trying to get me hooked, but I just couldn't care when the
As I was watching it I kept wanting to enjoy it, but I just couldn't. The climax of the film was so predictable and overwrought. I just wasn't invested in anything this movie was doing. The acting is great and it has some pretty good moments, but there was just something missing from how the story was told that stopped me from getting into it. I'd give it a 5 as it wasn't awful, but it was just super mediocre. I could feel it trying and trying to get me hooked, but I just couldn't care when the gripping moments happened.
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10:55AM on 01/31/2014
I feel like Brolin is still kinda taking whatever he can get. He's not yet at the star status of being able to turn stuff down, meaning if Ivan Reitman offers him a movie, he takes it. As for Winslet- she LOVES these roles. Honestly, if you watch the Reader, Iris, etc. she is clearly drawn to sappily romantic, somewhat messed up women.
I feel like Brolin is still kinda taking whatever he can get. He's not yet at the star status of being able to turn stuff down, meaning if Ivan Reitman offers him a movie, he takes it. As for Winslet- she LOVES these roles. Honestly, if you watch the Reader, Iris, etc. she is clearly drawn to sappily romantic, somewhat messed up women.
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10:53AM on 01/31/2014
this just looked bad but these types of movies just aint for me but ya the pie scene lol
this just looked bad but these types of movies just aint for me but ya the pie scene lol
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