Labor Day is a fairly dull and despite the best intentions by Reitman, Brolin and Winslet just never resonated on an emotional level plus an inane, ridiculous and unbelievable plotline. The Blu-ray offers up good audio/video transfers and, for a Paramount release, at least has a commentary track to go along with a decent featurette and some deleted scenes.
Genre(s): Drama, Romance
Paramount | PG13 – 111 min. – $39.99 | April 29, 2014
THE MOVIE – 2.5/5
Note: This review contains SPOILERS, so please skip if you have not seen the movie yet.
Labor Day is the latest from highly acclaimed filmmaker Jason Reitman, following up from Juno, Up in the Air and most recently Young Adult which itself received mixed reviews, though I enjoyed it headlined by another solid performance from Charlize Theron. Now comes his latest based on the novel by Joyce Maynard that I assume was influenced by Nicholas Sparks (or perhaps vice versa). Whichever the case, this slow moving romantic-drama never quite gels.
The set up to the story, taking place in the 1980s, centers on recluse mother Adele (KATE WINSLET) and her doting son Henry (GATTLIN GRIFFITH) whose lives are changed when escaped murderer Frank (JOSH BROLIN) forces them to take him to their home to lie low as the town is swarmed by police. He intends to only stay the night and catch the next train out but with it being Labor Day weekend, none are running and his stay is lengthened.
Frank fortunately is the friendly type of convict and treats the pair with respect and even goes as far to help out around the house, fixing the car, basement furnace and other odds and ends that had gone neglected and even teaches, when a neighbor (J.K. SIMMONS doing a solid for Reitman in a 2-minute appearance) brings by a bushel of peaches, how to make a slammin’ pie; Frank is also a mean cook able to make an amazing meal out of just about anything around the home.
Eventually it’s apparent this is becoming a family unit with Frank teaching Henry the ways of life from changing a tire to hitting a baseball while Frank and Adele soon become closer together and Adele allows herself to fall in love once again after her previous marriage collapsed, well the father (CLARK GREGG stepped out, after a dramatic period which is recounted in flashbacks, as is Frank’s background showing his own tragic past…
Meanwhile, we get a meaningless side story involving a precocious teenage girl named Mandy (MAIKA MONROE) who is new in town and whom Henry befriends. I think her involvement serves two purposes: one to show Henry’s interest in the opposite sex (legit) and the other to give some half-assed drama that absolutely goes nowhere and thanks to one scene, is dropped and serves no purpose other than to further pad the film. From my reading, the character is apparently more significant but she’s reduced to a side note and could’ve been completely dropped and it would not have been missed. The character is obnoxious beyond belief, though that is a personal pet peeve with precocious kids in movies…
In any case, with the home life coming together, and Adele’s feelings for Frank solidifying, it would seem Frank and Adele fulfill something within one another and Frank serves as a much needed father figure to Henry.
Ok, so here’s one of my biggest issues with the film and one I could not overcome. All of these things, the falling in love, fixing household items, teaching baseball, Hank befriending the new girl and all that? It takes place over the course of FIVE DAYS. Yep, and add to the fact Frank, Adele and Henry make plans to run for the Canadian border only made me more angry at this film. Seriously, though certainly Frank isn’t the dangerous murderer the police and media think he is, it’s still highly irresponsible for a mother to go on the run with her son. Yes, I know it’s a romance-drama and certain things should be taken with a grain of salt in service of the larger romance, but it is something that stuck out.
However, that being said, Labor Day doesn’t collapse under the weight of an inane story as those behind the film, and in front of the camera, appear to have the best of intentions: Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet share some genuine chemistry and the young Gattlin Griffith is fairly impressive and rarely got under my skin with stupidity, though toward the end he certainly tests the limits. Anyway, the three of them make for a good family unit even if how they arrived to the point is a bit laughable.
Jason Reitman is a great filmmaker with some solid hits under his belt including Juno (which has lost some of its luster, though still a brave flick) and Up in the Air, but Labor Day is definitely not in line with those others, and I include the aforementioned Young Adult in the mix which, from the general audience, wasn’t as well received.
In the end, Labor Day is an implausible story masked behind two solid performances from Winslet and Brolin based on a novel that, for the worst, most certainly resembles something from Nicholas Sparks. It’s not a particularly emotional film despite what Reitman tries to accomplish and an ending, including a needless cameo from Tobey Maguire (not spoiling anything, his name is in the opening credits) that appears tact on more than anything.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 2.75/5
This release comes with a matted slip cover. Inside is a standard DVD Copy and an authorization code for the Digital Copy (both UltraViolet and iTunes).
Filmmakers’ Commentary features writer/director Jason Reitman, director of photography Eric Steelberg and first assistant director/co-producer Jason Blumenfeld. The track is fairly lively and with three participants, there’s very little quiet time (though Reitman does the most talking) as they provide some info on how the film came to be and some other behind-the-scenes tid-bits.
End of Summer: Making of Labor Day (29:06; HD) is a well done if not basic behind-the-scenes featurette with comments by the author as well as the cast and crew talking about the plot and the characters.
Deleted Scenes (10:36; HD) – There are six scenes that were either cut down or removed. None of them are particularly profound and don’t really expand on the plot.
Previews – Noah, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
VIDEO – 4.5/5
Labor Day is released by Paramount presented with a 1080p high-definition transfer (MPEG-4 AVC codec) and shown in its original 2.35 widescreen aspect ratio. The picture isn’t anything amazing but detail levels are good and colors are bright and, considering the dour nature especially with the flashback scenes, fairly cheerful. The picture itself is relatively clean free of not only artifacts and such but also grain and noise.
AUDIO – 4.5/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track serves the film well with crisp and clear dialogue and while it’s not the deepest lossless track, when it’s called for, the LFE channel does kick in especially during the opening title sequence. The front and rear channels are relegated for ambient noises along with the somber score.
OVERALL – 3.0/5
Overall, Labor Day is a fairly dull and despite the best intentions by Reitman, Brolin and Winslet just never resonated on an emotional level plus an inane, ridiculous and unbelievable plotline. The Blu-ray offers up good audio/video transfers and, for a Paramount release, at least has a commentary track to go along with a decent featurette and some deleted scenes.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2. Please note, these do contain spoilers.