Labor Day, A Cinematic Valentine


     “Labor Day,” based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, is director Jason Reitman’s valentine to old-school filmmaking of the romantic kind. This is a sun-kissed, sentimental drama with its heart on its sleeve and bearing the guts for patience in a world where sadomasochism and a wolf-eared Channing Tatum pass for multiplex entertainment. While misguided in its attempt to stoke thrills out of a simple romance, Reitman’s worst-reviewed film is not a bad movie. Stars Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin make sure of that. Tracing one Labor Day weekend in the sweaty south where an escaped convict finds refuge with a lonely mother and her tween son, the script knows its way around the uncomfortable silences and dreamy gestures of such melodrama, conjuring out of nowhere a potent chemistry between Winslet and Brolin. Convict and caretaker aren’t exactly two peas in a pod at first glance, but Reitman’s penchant for sincerity leads to what might otherwise be a mismatched pair of middle-aged actors. Young Gattlin Griffith is subtle enough to avoid the precocious pitfalls of child star roles, although he doesn’t exactly sell the character’s shift from enraptured kid to skeptical teenager. Brolin has the perfect face for a decent man holding a dark past under wraps, and Winslet always excels as the lonely, pent-up mother seeking a lively satisfaction outside of child-rearing. Critics have ranted about a particular scene involving fatherly convict, mother, and son baking a peach pie together as if it were some pinnacle of high camp. My own interpretation falls somewhere in the realm of ordinary, innocent character development. Where the film truly falters is during the climax when Reitman (or perhaps Maynard, haven’t read the book) feels the need to amp up the thrills before curtains, and in the process piles on ludicrous contrivances just as Kate and co. are about to ride off into the sunset. A concerned cop who’s never shown up before? The nosy neighbor who wants her dishes back? All devices conveniently placed on the day this surrogate family might actually become a family. Anyways, despite the annoying coincidences and an old-fashioned plot that comes dangerously close to being too old-fashioned, “Labor Day” features a heartwarming denouement and a nice catch-up on tween-son-turned-adult-baker who now looks like Tobey Maguire. Winslet and Brolin make a surprisingly ample couple and Reitman shows directorial range, offering up a slice of life drama on the heels of several quirky, off-kilter dramedies of the modern American kind.

Grade: B-

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