Who ever thought that it was a good idea for Tobey Maguire to narrate anything? I mean, have these casting directors ever heard him talk? Can you honestly tell me that you like listening to his whiney voice tell you everything that you can see clearly and don’t need narrated? I mean, I absolutely hate narration for the sake of narration (oh, let’s tell a story) but if I have to suffer through someone vocalize every event on the screen, at least make their voice soothing or enjoyable. When you factor in that the character Maguire is vocalizing is previously portrayed (in a two minute sequence, but still) by Dylan Minnette who has a voice that is drastically deeper than Maguire’s, it all feels so dumb. I already had to suffer through his terrible narration in ‘The Great Gatsby’, but at least he was a prominent actor there. Here, he bakes a pie. They could have got anyone to do that.
I promise, this isn’t a review of Tobey Maguire, the actor that never was.
Anyways, that was the first thought that I had while watching ‘Labor Day’. The second thought I had was “why is Jason Reitman directing this?” I ask that because nothing about ‘Labor Day’ feels like a Reitman film, which is odd since he has, until this moment, carried such a distinct style of filmmaking. ‘Thank Your For Smoking’, ‘Juno’, ‘Up in the Air’, ‘Young Adult’…while all different films all share a very similar tonal structure. He knows how to make a really biting dramedy.
‘Labor Day’ is not a dramedy.
‘Labor Day’ tells the story of Adele, a single mother living alone with her son, harboring a tortured past that has left her emotionally unmovable and pretty much incapable of human interaction. Her son, Henry, assumes that she has slipped into depression thanks to his father, Gerald, leaving her for his secretary, but comments made in passing paint a picture that reaches back further than that. Adele never leaves the home, but once a month to get supplies. On one of these ventures out into the world, they come across Frank. He’s bleeding and obviously on the run and he pushes himself on Adele and her son and winds up at their house. He explains that he’s an escaped convict and just needs a place to hide out until nightfall. What was supposed to be a single day lasts much longer as Adele and Frank start to fall in love and plan a life together, with Henry at their side. Their pasts come to the fore and their secrets are revealed and, well, there will be much sadness.
What to say, what to say? First, that pie making scene made me hungrier than I’ve ever been while watching a movie; no joke. Second, the second half of this movie was so much sadness on top of sadness that I couldn’t even process it fast enough to care. Adele’s backstory is sad enough, but then Frank gets into explaining what happened to him and why he was arrested and it’s a whole ton of misery and I was just thinking “they’re trying way to hard” which also added to the fact that this film just doesn’t feel cinematic.
It feels very much like a Lifetime movie.
That isn’t to say that the people involved here don’t try. Both Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin are excellent here. Winslet is especially superb, channeling Adele’s bottled misery in a way that feels authentic and heartbreaking, and then slowly breaking her out of her shell, while still keeping hold of the ticks that make it hard for her to interact with the real world around her. Still, these performances aren’t enough to overcome the film’s weaknesses, especially when certain unnecessary characters come around and stink up the whole joint.
Yes, I’m talking about you Brighid Fleming and your terrible character, Eleanor.
It would have been nice if Reitman could have adapted this story in a way that felt more his own, but instead he created a film that could have been directed by any no-name director with no style or knack for storytelling. It all feels so blandly constructed and obvious, and the sappy ending felt completely unnatural. I really wanted this to be something special, but instead it came and went and was completely forgotten, for a reason.
I give this a C-. This had the potential to be an Oscar powerhouse, but the uninspired direction and the 'throw everything at them in the third act' screenplay prohibited this from reaching it's full potential. That said, Winslet in particular is extremely good here.