By Jess Lomas
February 4, 2014
American Pie move over, there’s a new awkward pie scene benchmark in Jason Reitman’s unlikely love story Labor Day. Based on Joyce Maynard’s novel of the same name, Reitman’s screenplay feels like an unintentional tribute to a Nicholas Sparks weepy. Single mother Adele (Kate Winslet) has become a recluse since an unfortunate series of events caused her husband Gerald (Clark Gregg) to walk out on her and their only son Henry (Gattlin Griffith). On one of her irregular trips into town with Henry for supplies, escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin) imposes himself on her, asking to return to their house until he can make a run for it the following morning.
One day turns into one weekend to change all of their lives, and as Frank’s wound begins to heal so too does Adele’s broken heart and confidence. Henry also finds in Frank the father figure he’s so desperately needed, and as their bond grows a plan is formed to pack up the house and start a new life together in Canada.
Labor Day has all the necessary elements for a touching and memorable romance, two great leads in Winslet and Brolin, and an against-the-odds love story that should deliver scenes of passion and desire. Adding to that is Reitman’s history both behind the camera and as a screenwriter, with Juno and Up in the Air earning him Oscar nominations.
While there are some stirring scenes, in particular involving the distraught Winslet and the impressive performance from the young Griffith, overall the film fails to delight as much as Frank’s famous peach pie supposedly does. Brolin’s stiff convict with a heart as soft as butter is laughable as he delivers deadpan lines, perhaps doing his best with questionable source material. A bucket of overripe peaches culminates in a sensual and slightly inappropriate three-way pie-making scene that must be seen to be believed. The utter lack of chemistry on screen between Brolin and Winslet, and a string of montages in which Frank fulfils every housewife’s dream by being handyman and father of the year can only be interpreted one way: as a hilarious joke.
Whether this is Reitman’s attempt at a modern melodrama or filmmaking gone wrong is hard to tell. His heavy-handed and misguided direction is not helped by Tobey Maguire’s grating narration as adult Henry, remembering that fateful holiday weekend. Although the film’s pacing is continually on point, the story never really goes anywhere.
Labor Day arrives in Australian cinemas February 6, 2014.