At the Movies: Labor Day

Apparently Hollywood abandons the male audience on Super Bowl weekend. The three movies opening today are “Gloria,” about a “woman of a certain age” (whatever that means) looking for love; “That Awkward Moment,” about three friends dealing with the dating game; and “Labor Day,” about a lonely woman who finds love with a fugitive.

Yes, I considered punting this week, but I punted last week (it’s not my fault they wouldn’t screen “I, Frankenstein”) and they pull your license if you skip two weeks in a row so I flipped a coin and “Labor Day” won.

Which means I lost.

Based on a novel by Joyce Maynard, “Labor Day” is a set in 1987 in a run-down house outside a small town where young Henry Wheeler (Gattlin Griffith) lives with his mother Adele (Kate Winslet). The story is narrated by Tobey Maguire, who appears late in the film as the grown-up Henry.

labor_day_ver2_xlrgAdele is depressed and withdrawn from society, for tragic reasons I won’t get into. Henry’s father Gerald (Clark Gregg) couldn’t handle his wife’s condition and ran off with his secretary. It takes all of Adele’s strength to get in the car once a month and drive into town for supplies.

During one monthly outing Henry is checking out the magazine racks at the store when he’s approached by a mysterious, bleeding man — Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin). Frank coerces Adele to drive him out to her home. Keep in mind that Frank doesn’t have a gun or a knife and is injured and yet this timid recluse choses to take him for a ride rather than, I dunno, kick him in the shins and call for help in a store filled with people.

But I’m going to give them a pass on this stupidity since the whole film hinges on it. I would let it ride if there was a really compelling, heartfelt story to arise from this unlikely scenario but there isn’t.

Frank is an escaped convict who just needs a place to hold up until nightfall when he’ll hop the next train out of town. But it turns out the trains don’t run on holiday weekends (seriously?) so he’s stuck there for three days.

On the first day he ties Adele up so we can have the erotic bondage bit complete with feeding her his special homemade stew. That’s followed by the sensual pie-making scene that’s just a little creepy since it involves mother, son and fugitive.

Frank quickly melts Adele’s frozen heart through his culinary and handyman skills. Adele and Frank both have tragedy in their past but together maybe they can overcome it if they run away to Canada.

“Labor Day” was written and directed by Jason Reitman, who has given us such fine films as “Thank You For Smoking,” Juno” and “Up In The Air.” This is not in that league.

The actors are actually quite good but the melodrama is so thick and the story is unconvincing. There’s also the issue of an odd mystery girl (Brighid Fleming) who shows up for no apparent reason other than to mess with Henry’s head. The film would’ve been better off without her.


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