Every director is allowed to hit a speed bump here and there, right? Jason Reitman — son of director Ivan Reitman — has been riding a wave of greatness since he made his debut with Thank You for Smoking in 2005 and followed up with Juno, Up in the Air, and Young Adult. It’s interesting that his two best films, he didn’t write. With his new film Labor Day, Reitman has decided to adapt Joyce Maynard’s novel into a blundering bore, featuring at least as many endings as The Return of the King. Even with two fantastic leads — Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin — Reitman never finds a way to make a film essentially about nothing, feel like it’s about anything.
Labor Day is narrated by Tobey Maguire as the adult version of Henry — played as a teen by Gattlin Griffith. Henry recounts his youth as he deals with his mother Adele’s (Winslet) broken heart after his father Gerald (Clark Gregg) moves on with a new life. One day the mother/son duo head out to the supermarket where Henry is approached by a bleeding man named Frank (Brolin). Frank has just escaped from prison while hospitalized for an appendicitis operation. Frank forces the two into taking him to their home where the three spend Labor Day weekend getting to know each other — and falling in love for the two adults — when they’re not cleaning the house, fixing cars, playing catch, or baking pies. But after Henry starts talking to schoolmate Eleanor (Brighid Fleming) he starts to question Frank and Adele’s motives when they begin asking for books from the library about Canada and Prince Edward Island.
Flashbacks reveal why Frank was imprisoned and why Adele seems to be having such a hard time coping with life — with the younger versions played by Maika Monroe and Tom Lipinski. Reitman has Rolfe Kent score the film with mysterious thriller flair. But, all the big reveals do is enhance the story’s downbeat tone and let me warn you, this is not a feel-good movie. It’s actually a huge downer, something that not even Henry and Eleanor’s exchanges, or Agent Coulson can alleviate. The pie making scene seems to go on and on forever and eludes to a sense of eroticism — it is a peach pie after all — but considering Henry is right in the middle of the process only makes it even more awkward. Juno’s dad J.K. Simmons has one scene as the peach harboring neighbor, and Brooke Smith feels like she’s about to rub the lotion on its skin, but is as wasted as everyone else.
Labor Day will definitely remain one of 2014’s dullest films. And it lives up to its title. It feels like hard work sitting through it while the pace makes it feel like it takes days to watch. C’mon Reitman, you’re better than this. Better luck next time.
Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures