The year 2013 in film spoiled moviegoers with a wealth of movies by directors with renowned track records from Coen to Payne to Scorsese. Among the first films of the new year that feature a respected auteur is “Labor Day,” with young director Jason Reitman at the helm, whose previous efforts include “Thank You for Smoking,” “Juno,” “Up in the Air” and “Young Adult.”
Those four features amount to an average score of roughly 87 percent “fresh” from top critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find another filmmaker who managed to find such critical acclaim right out of the gate; particularly one who began at the ripe age of 26. It’s Reitman’s credentials, in conjunction with a rock-solid cast lead by Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet, that make “Labor Day” worth looking forward to.
Adapted by Reitman from the Joyce Maynard novel of the same title, the film tells the story of escaped murder convict Frank Chambers (Brolin), who forces single mother Adele Wheeler (Winslet) and her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) to harbor him. In what could be argued as a case of Stockholm Syndrome, Adele falls for Frank, and he immediately fills the role of father figure to Henry. Over the course of one Labor Day weekend in the late 80s, Frank and Adele decide to take Henry and flee to Canada together, but first they must deal with the obvious obstacles in front of them: the law, the community and Henry’s father.
For the first time in his career, Reitman misses the mark with “Labor Day.” Despite perfectly serviceable performances from its lead actors, the film as a whole doesn’t add up to much more than a couple of decently captured emotional peaks with some fairly cheesy and non-credible valleys in between. The fact of the matter is, the task of getting an audience to feel a connection between a depressed single mother and the convicted murderer who has taken her hostage is an uphill battle, and Reitman ultimately comes up short.
From a director who has already shown us how dynamic he can be with complex, thoughtful love stories such as in “Juno” and “Up in the Air,” Reitman overloads “Labor Day” with schmaltz. The final product comes out looking like something that originated from a Nicholas Sparks novel. Perhaps in different creative hands, “Labor Day” could have been a more cohesive effort, but it appears it was a misguided ambition from the start.