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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Labor Day (2013)


Escaped convicts always make the best stand-in daddies. Honestly don’t know why they aren’t more frequent.

13-year-old Henry (Gattlin Griffith) and his depressed mother Adele (Kate Winslet) are going through a bit of a rough-patch right now. Mainly her though as she’s trying to get over the recent-divorce from her ex (Clark Gregg) and find her way back into being the normal, spirited gal she once was. However, Henry has it pretty bad too, with puberty and all, but he doesn’t think he has it all that bad when he just so happens to stumble upon an escaped convict by the name of Frank (Josh Brolin), who then urges them to come with him and not be suspicious in any way. At first, both Henry and Adele are frightened of this man, but sooner than later, they begin to realize that he’s got a heart of gold, but also just so happens to be a murderer – a murder he consistently lets us know is “not what it appears to be”. As time goes on though, the three all begin to bond, with Adele and Frank even going so far as to start doing a little hanky-panky, which leads them to their next stage: Move-away and become a real family? Or, just let the law take control and send Frank back to the slammer, where he rightfully belongs? Decisions, decisions people.

It pains me to see a movie like this, where one of the most promising directors in the longest while, Jason Reitman, tries something new and slightly bold, and somehow, falls on his face. Not flat on his face, but you can definitely tell that his “smart idea” of changing his directorial-choices up a bit and going for something that’s far more dramatic, romantic and in some cases, suspenseful than what we’ve seen him do in the past, definitely wasn’t fully thought-out.

"Don't mind this goatee-sporting man that just so happens to be wearing a sweat-top and baseball-cap next to me. He's just an old friend I just so happened to stumble upon."

“Don’t mind this goatee-sporting man, who also happens to be wearing a sweat-top and baseball-cap next to me. He’s just an old friend I just so happened to stumble upon while shopping.”

Reason being: There just isn’t much, or any at all spark to be found in this story that should have made it work.

The one aspect of this movie I will give Reitman some credit for is at least trying to give the audiences something new, in terms of an “adult romance”. And by that, I don’t mean that we see much sex between the adults, or nudity, or even that much of sappy, love-struck moments that would make even Nicholas Sparks get all red in the face; it’s an “adult romance” in the way that we see two, older-aged humans that have clearly experienced life for what it was has brought to them, and now how they want to continue on their lives with one another. It’s kind of sweet when you think about it and definitely gives you the idea that this is not something very “popular” with audiences out there. However, the fact remains that adults do in fact, “fall in love”, and it’s time that we started seeing more movies that depict that fact of life.

But to add on that, we should also be seeing good movies that depict that fact of life, not something like this. Which, I kind of do hate to say because I love Reitman; he’s the type of writer/director who’s not afraid to take chances, or depict characters that may not always be perfect, but feel like full-fledged characters we can actually care about and connect with. Here though, we have a bunch of broken-down, beaten-up people that would definitely seem like perfect matches-made-in-heaven for one another, but don’t really add up to much. It’s believable that somebody as repressed as Adele would look twice at a guy like Frank who, may even be more emotionally-disturbed than she is, but treats her like the Queen Bee she hasn’t felt like in some odd time. That aspect of the story definitely makes sense, but it just doesn’t play-out in a believable manner.

Which, I think, is to put the blame on Reitman for having this story be told in the point-of-view of Henry. Granted, I never read the book this is an adaptation of, so it could definitely be just a case where somebody is following by the guide-lines presented to him, but it doesn’t work. Not only do we get too much focus on Henry oddly and awkwardly talking to this fellow teenage girl (that, unbelievably, keeps talking about sex and how he should get ready to be kicked-out of the house because the adults he lives with are having too much of it), but we never actually get to see Frank and Adele develop much as a couple, or even soul-mates. We just see them sad, lonely and in need of some lovin’, which is all fine and dandy because we’re all human in the end, but we never quite see them talk, get to know one another, or even see them initiate the act of sex. We just hear their moans and groans, which is supposed to be played-up for laughs, but just feels like Reitman trying very, very hard to secure a PG-13-rating without over-stepping those boundaries or offending anybody in the process.

In this case, as dirty as I may sound to state this, but those boundaries needed to be taken-off and shoved in front of our faces, just like he’s done with all of his movies.

And trust me, this all hurts me to say because while I definitely did see promise in this material and in this director, I felt the most of it with the cast. Which I wasn’t wrong to think, because they are all actually fine and make this movie the least bit “watchable”. Kate Winslet gives us, yet again, another performance where she acts her ass off as a sad, slightly disturbed heroine that definitely does seem like a nice lady when she’s functioning, but she rarely is and doesn’t even bother to go out there in the real world. It’s kind of sad to see this type of character, really, and while, without saying anything, Winslet tells us everything there is we need to know about her character, Adele does become a bit more implausible as time goes on and she starts to change every aspect of her life, just to be with this man she’s known for all of four-five days. I get it, that’s the point, but the point didn’t work for me. Sorry.

One of the very rare instances in which it's "okay" to have your woman bake you a pie.

Hey, shouldn’t “the woman” in that equation be making the pie? Men? You with me on this?

We also have Josh Brolin here as Frank, who, like Winslet, is fine at displaying this type of character that seems like he was, at one point in time, a very nice and genuine guy, but has been through the ringer a bit too many times to where he’s a bit scary to be around. He’s still nice and definitely the right kind of guy to teach you how to throw a baseball, but is also a bit unpredictable as you never know when he could turn that other cheek, and commit some questionable actions. He already did once, so what’s stopping him now? Nada, that’s what!

Gattlin Griffith shows some promise here as Henry, but he too gets bogged-down by some unbelievable twists and turns his character takes, and it makes you wonder if this kid’s scared, sheltered, or just dumb. Tobey Maguire also narrates the older-version of Henry, and while it’s nice to hear his smooth, gentle voice over the speakers when we least expect it, it still doesn’t add much to the film and just tells us everything that’s happen on-screen. Poor Tobey. From just standing-around and looking like a fool in the Great Gatsby, to this, it seems like the guy will almost never catch a break. Somebody give him a hug already!

Consensus: Winslet, Brolin and relative new-comer Griffith, definitely make Labor Day somewhat interesting, but everything Jason Reitman does as writer/director feels like he’s just trying too hard to be anything like he’s been for all of his other movies, and by doing so, doesn’t allow this story to ever pick-up any tension or blissfulness that it so clearly needs.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"Don't be nervous, kid. Cause if you are, I'll freaking snap your mom's neck in-half. Like I said, don't be nervous."

“Don’t be nervous, kid. Cause if you are, I’ll freaking snap your mom’s neck in-half. Like I said, don’t be nervous.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

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33 responses to “Labor Day (2013)

  1. natezoebl January 31, 2014 at 3:50 am

    This looks like the film to break the hot streak that Jason Reitman was on. I read a TIME article where it said his career looked like he was headed for a billy Wilder like career, and this was a detour into unironic Douglas Silk. I hope he returns to Wilder territory.

  2. reviewedbymarkleonard January 31, 2014 at 3:53 am

    You are too kind to this bilge. I gave it a C-, which would translate roughly to a 4. ML

  3. jjames36 January 31, 2014 at 3:59 am

    Good review. I am in no hurry to see this, expecting many of the flaws to which you point.

  4. Nostra January 31, 2014 at 7:52 am

    Had not heard from it and reading the review I won’t rush to see this any time soon.

  5. Zoë January 31, 2014 at 8:01 am

    Oh my, this one isn’t winning anything… not high up on my list! Great work as always Dan!

  6. jenski katie January 31, 2014 at 8:12 am

    quite interesting review.

  7. pittsburghmoviegirl January 31, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Thanks for the review – I think I’ll wait for Netflix instant!

  8. jklmd2002 January 31, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    Good review Dan! Missed the screening for this and thanks to you it doesn’t sound like I missed much!

  9. keith7198 January 31, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    My feelings are all over the place on this film. I’m trying to pen my review but I keep going back-and-forth. It’s definitely a movie with some big strengths but equally big weaknesses.

  10. Three Rows Back February 1, 2014 at 12:12 am

    Kinda feared this might be the case. Hmmm. Nice work Dan.

  11. Tom February 1, 2014 at 12:17 am

    Sterling work, good sir. THis movie made me almost laugh a couple of times (in spots where I clearly wasn’t supposed to) becaues it was, as you say, completely unbelievable a lot of the time. I wanted to like it. . . and I even am going to give Brolin some credit here, along with Winslut, but meh. . . this entire experience wasn’t a good first impression of Rietman for yours truly!!!

  12. thomasjford February 1, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Gutted! I was looking forward to this, being Reitman and all. Oh well, I’ll make my own mind up some when I’m sure.cheers for the review Dan.

  13. Joe Senart February 1, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    Yeah I think I’ll be skipping this one. Thanks Dan!

  14. Caroline Crow February 2, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Excellent review.

  15. Lights Camera Reaction February 2, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    I usually like Reitman, but I hear that he’s the main reason why Labor Day isn’t that good, which is a shame. Lovely review though, glad to hear Winslet and Brolin give good performances.

    • CMrok93 February 3, 2014 at 4:56 am

      They give good performances and make this worth somewhat watching. As for Reitman, it’s a shame because he is clearly trying, it just doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

  16. rachelhelenag February 3, 2014 at 11:47 pm

    Great review. I certainly think that a person’s impression of Reitman’s earlier work might effect their judgement of this film: it is different to anything he has ever done. The performances were great, but it wasn’t enough to carry a film that really didn’t build. There was a missing crescendo, I found. I reviewed it here, would love you to check it out! http://thereeljunkie.com/2014/02/03/film-review-labor-day-2013/

    -RH :)

  17. Mark Hobin February 5, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    I “loved” how they became a happy family. After the convinced felon forced them to take him to their home he was so nice of him to cook for them. That pie making scene was hilarious. I was dying. Sorry but I couldn’t give this manipulative romance novel tripe anything higher than 4/10. Glad you sort of enjoyed it at least.

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