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Labor Day - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published February 7th 2014
Perfectly baked pies but the drama is overcooked
Director: Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult)
Cast: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tobey Maguire

In reality the serious business of an escaped prisoner holding a mother and son hostage would be a traumatic experience, but this being a movie and the escaped prisoner looking like Josh Brolin and the housewife looking like Kate Winslet, of course romance ensues.

labor day kate winslet josh brolin
Frank (Josh Brolin) and Adele (Kate Winslet) in an unconventional hostage situation

If this sounds a little bit silly, its because it is. I know Stockholm Syndrome exists, but do the kidnapped really attach themselves to their kidnappers right from Day One?

I was actually quite happy to go along with this little bit of romantic fantasy, if only because I love Kate Winslet, and her character is carefully constructed to be just the kind of damaged goods that would fall into the arms of the first man who showed a bit of kindness towards her. Unfortunately the extraordinarily superfluous voice over from the son's point of view is so annoying, it repeatedly takes us out of the film. Why is he describing what we can see with our own eyes? Is this an episode of Masterchef where we continually have to be told what's happening?

labor day kate winslet josh brolin
Henry (Gattlin Griffith), Frank and Adele get domestic in the kitchen

Winslet and Brolin do have a fair douse of chemistry going on, but it stretches credibility that they should develop such a rapport over the period of a long weekend, especially with him being a convicted murderer and her having her son to protect. Perhaps as a novel (on which this is based) the brevity of time in which the connection occurs doesn't feel so abrupt. But connect they do, and as they sidle closer together there are just enough flashbacks to tantalisingly sketch in some much needed exposition on both their characters.

For the most part it makes for the kind of swooning wish fulfillment that could be called a guilty pleasure. He's a crim but he has a heart of gold and bakes a mean pie, she's had it rough but maybe she can open her heart one more time.

Unfortunately the last 20 minutes undoes any good work that has gone before it. The son's incessant narration goes into overdrive and every little loose end is neatly tied with a big, bright bow on top. Laboured Day may have been a better title.

I still love Kate, and she's great in this. I can see why she was attracted to this complex woman. There are reminders of previous characters she's played, particularly the disenchanted housewives of Little Children and Revolutionary Road. Sadly, director Jason Reitman, who showed such great touch with Up in the Air and Juno, can't shape the material into something we can actually fall for.

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Why? Kate Winslet doing what she does best
Where: At selected cinemas
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