“Labor Day” Review

Adapted from a Joyce Maynard novel, Labor Day is directed by Jason Reitman. However, it stands out from Reitman’s other films, including Thank You for Smoking (2005), Juno (2007), and Up in the Air (2009), because of a distinct lack of cynicism and dark comedy. Starring Gattlin Griffith, Kate Winslet, and Josh Brolin, this romantic-drama tells of an escaped convict (Brolin) who takes refuge at a single mother’s (Winslet) home.

Labor Day is soppy, melodramatic, and completely unrealistic. The entire film screams of a school-girl’s romantic fantasy. A tall, dark, and handsome man, on the run from the law, comes to the rescue of a heartbroken mother. The man isn’t dangerous, he’s just misunderstood. He’s sweet, great with kids, and an amazing cook. Their love has to be kept a secret though, because of the overly aware neighbors and ever-present police. It’s incredibly similar to the type of contrived garbage you’d find in a Nicolas Sparks’ novel.

It’s obvious that the actors are all trying their best, but they’re just not given a lot to do. The extent of Winslet’s part never goes past shaking and looking helpless. Brolin seems restrained, and doesn’t attain his normal screen presence. Griffith, playing the main character and eyes for the audience, is surprisingly solid for a child actor, and holds the film together. JK Simmons, Clark Gregg, and James Van Der Beek have supporting roles, but they never appear for more than a scene or two.

As the title would suggest, Labor Day primarily takes place over a long Labor Day weekend, and it feels that long, even with a sub-2 hour runtime. The pacing is slow, and there are plenty of scenes that don’t contribute much to the story. The scenes move with a particular stillness that makes it feel as if time were standing still.

Labor Day marks Tobey Maguire’s second film in a row where he serves as narrator, the first being The Great Gatsby (2013). Labor Day suffers the same unfortunate fate as Gatsby; it’s obvious a lot of talented people worked on the movies, but the contributions didn’t result in a coherent film. Although Labor Day is much more balanced and less grating than The Great Gatsby, you don’t need to see it unless you’re sure it’s your type of movie. 4/10

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