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.
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.
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!!