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“Labor Day”: subtly sweet, but overwrought

By Muhammad Muzammal Columnist

 

Graceful yet flawed, director Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day” is an ambitious, poetic film. The movie, which features memorable performances by its principal actors, can be seen as a coming of age story, an erotic romance, or a crime caper. The problem is that it contains too many tonal inconsistencies and a script that falters as the film progresses.

In the outlandish story, Adele (Kate Winslet), the divorced mother of Hank (Griffith), encounters a wrongly convicted criminal on the run named Frank (Josh Brolin). When Adele first meets Frank, she is a broken and lonely woman, still recovering from the separation of her marriage.

Frank needs a place to stay until he can continue on his journey so Adele has him stay at her house until he can escape. Over the course of five days (Labor Day weekend), the relationship between Adele and Frank deepens while Hank slowly matures.

All of this is fine, the issue is that the story moves too quickly. Five days is not enough for the film’s characters to feel the emotions the story throws at them. Thankfully, Reitman’s film is well edited and as such, story time does not become much of a major issue.

As the plot builds to its final act, the screenplay has its characters get into too many idiotic situations. Why does Frank decide to reveal himself to one of Adele’s neighbors, knowing very well he is wanted for his escape? Or why does he step outside the house, as the police patrol the streets, looking for him?

The tone is off point as well. There are moments where I didn’t know what type of movie I was viewing. There are a couple of moving scenes that convey the love between Frank and Adele, but there are also scenes where tension builds up like it would in a horror movie.

If I had to choose, I’d like the film to be an exploration of the relationship between Frank and Adele. Reitman has directed great movies about people adapting to new environments (“Juno”, “Young Adult,” “Up in the Air”). If more attention was paid to their relationship, and how they dealt with such a major change in their lives, it would be a much more focused and affecting motion picture.

The small instances where Adele and Frank’s love is shown are lovely and not too melodramatic. The scenes have a certain elegance which separate them from a regular Nicholas Sparks film adaptation.

Much credit goes to the actors. Winslet plays Adele as a hopeless, depressed single mother. Brolin plays Frank as a man filled with regret trying to better himself.

Reitman is more than a competent filmmaker. He has flashes of brilliance here, especially during the scenes where Rolfe Kent’s soothing score compliments the various feelings of the film’s characters. If there would’ve been a stronger script and a consistent tone, Reitman would’ve had a better movie on his hands.

Yet, I didn’t leave Labor Day with a bad taste in my mouth. I was impressed by the movie’s gentle and quiet ending. After the jumbled mess, the film resorts back to the relationship between Adele and Frank, capping off the movie in a tranquil and serene way. If only the rest of the film was like this, it would’ve been something special.

 

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