* (out of four)
I don’t know if Playgirl Forum exists. If it does, the ridiculous story behind “Labor Day” may have been ripped straight from the archives. Despite starring Kate Winslet and being written and directed by Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”), the film boils down to a daytime soap about Stockholm syndrome.
Escaped and bleeding convict Frank (Josh Brolin) forces divorced shut-in Adele (Winslet) and her teenage son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith), to take him in. That may sound scary. Fortunately for these innocents, they soon discover the guy is an isolated middle-aged woman’s dream: He’s muscular. He’s rugged. He cooks homemade chili and mind-blowing biscuits. He dances, cleans gutters and fixes squeaky hinges, all with an unhealed wound from appendicitis surgery. He’s even great with kids!
Perhaps all those idealized qualities are why Adele never asks about the whole “serving 18 years for murder” thing. Reitman foolishly thinks occasionally showing “He Got Game”/”Shawshank Redemption”-esque flashbacks to Frank’s pre-incarcerated days compensate for Adele’s lack of curiosity and the joke of a romance that develops. Adapting the book from author Joyce Maynard, Reitman incorporates distracting voiceover from the adult version of Henry (Tobey Maguire) and fetishizes pie in ways we’ve hardly seen since Jason Biggs thrusted his way to stardom.
Winslet breathes no credibility into a woman looking for an escape from her traumatized solitude, and the film’s discussion of sex exists somewhere between jumbled and incoherent. Don’t leave early, though; the local authorities’ inept search for Frank only leads to a hilarious finale so contrived it demands a new word that suggests more nonsense than “nonsense.”
You could ask why this meandering, tension-less movie needed to be set in 1987 or why it had to be Labor Day weekend, but questioning and participating in such pointless garbage is a waste of effort for everyone involved.
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