Movie review: “Labor Day” trudges through long weekend

By Columbus Alive
From the January 30, 2014 edition

Let me let you in on a little movie critic secret. You can tell a lot about a film by its release date.

This isn’t to say there aren’t surprises, but when a movie with an Oscar pedigree doesn’t get a wide release until after the Oscar nominations, it tells me something is up. And something is indeed up with “Labor Day.”

You’ve got an Oscar-nominated director in Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air,” “Juno”), lead actress in Kate Winslet (“Titanic,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” etc.) and lead actor in Josh Brolin (“Milk”).

So what could possibly go wrong? Well, the story, for one.

In a small New England town in 1987, we meet Henry (Gattlin Griffith), a boy who lives with his depressed single mother, Adele (Winslet).

A coerced offer of a ride to a bleeding, threatening stranger brings Frank (Brolin) into their lives. Frank is calm but intimidating, and when asks for a place to lay low until the evening, it becomes apparent that he is an escaped prisoner on the run.

Over the next few days (days!), Frank becomes an integral part of this little family. The only thing between them and a happy ending is the whole “escaped convict” thing.

Reitman — working from a novel by Joyce Maynard — has the task of making this premise plausible. Though he’s quite a talent, this task proves to be over his head. I had far too many “oh, come on!” moments to overcome. There’s an unconventional (and melodramatic) love story here that is clearly meant to hit the swoon button.

It’s a shame, particularly, that the talent of Winslet is wasted here. Her presence should have been the transformative factor, but she can’t patch the holes in the story.

There are some good moments in the film, but those moments don’t add up to a cohesive story. And that’s why you aren’t seeing “Labor Day” on Oscar night.

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures