Labor Day (London Film Festival 2013) Review
The screening of Labor Day elicited a few early laughs amid a knowingly implausible hostage situation and a ridiculous take on the nuclear family. After 20 minutes, it’s apparent that Jason Reitman is frighteningly earnest with this misguided romance – we were the ones held hostage by this terrible film. Adele (Kate Winslet) is a single mother of 13-year-old Henry (Gattlin Griffith), both rattled by the household’s absence of a father figure – made very clear by a slightly Oedipal voiceover (lent by Tobey Maguire as an adult Henry reflecting on his childhood). A supermarket trip involves an escaped convict, Frank (Josh Brolin), somehow talking himself into finding refuge in their house. Within a few hours, a Stockholm Syndrome situation occurs, with the convicted murderer taking over as the new man of the house. The title refers to the time setting, across Labor Day weekend (and presumably some childbirth wordplay). It accidentally eludes to the laboured metaphors that Reitman tackles with complete sincerity, namely the speed at which Frank introduces himself as a baseball fan who’ll play catch with the young boy. Adele might be unable to fight her biological ages towards the convict’s handsome figure, but I was incredulous at a very early pastry-making scene – when baking a pie, Frank requests his two captives help him lift the top crust and “put a roof on this house”. I can imagine a missing scene where they watch Return of the Jedi, with a handholding close-up during the “Luke, I am your father” climax. The sickening sweetness expands into Hollywood twists that strike me as an Oscar-famed director ignoring sensible feedback and pointing to his CV. I’ve been a fan of Reitman for quite a while, and have always been impressed by his ability to draw unexpectedly moving conclusions for otherwise unemotional characters (Young Adult and Up in the Air being two recent examples). However, Labor Day begins with three heart-on-sleeve caricatures, with the unnatural story bearing the beats of a Pinter play. The subplots similarly run into a wall, including a Juno-inspired 13-year-old girl who dishes out adult dating advice, a cruel neighbour who slaps her disabled child, and frequent flashbacks that distract from the central relationships. I expect Labor Day to receive cult status in following years at midnight events showcasing compellingly misguided disasters: Kate Winslet survives another sinking ship. Labor Day is making its European premiere as the London Film Festival’s May Fair Gala screening. More information can be found here.