¨I don't think losing my father broke my mother's heart, but rather losing love itself.¨
I admire director Jason Reitman's work (Juno and Up in the Air being my favorites), but I have to admit his screenplay for Labor Day was a mess. I really found it difficult to believe that any of the characters here would behave the way they did, and that took me completely out of the movie. There were some awkward and ridiculous decisions made by each one of the characters during some point of the movie that never allowed me to sit back and enjoy it. The premise is so out there that neither the suspense nor the romance worked. At the end, Reitman tried to save the film by giving it a schmaltzy and sweet ending, but it felt completely out of place. The only thing the film succeeds in is in making me want to go try some of that peach pie they made. Reitman knows how to place and move the camera, every shot was at the right place, but the senseless story hurt the film. Not even talented actors like Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet were able to make their characters believable, and the narration from Tobey Maguire was painful to listen to. Not for one moment was I able to buy into the scenario (a guy escapes from prison, and in order to hide from the police, forces a mother and her son to take him in to their home and then teaches them how to bake a pie and play baseball).
The screenplay was adapted by Jason Reitman from Joyce Maynard's novel, which I have never read, but if it's anything like the film I plan to stay away from it. The film centers on a 13 year old boy named Henry Wheeler (narrated by Tobey Maguire as an adult, but played by Gattlin Griffith as the teenager) who lives with his depressed mother. Ever since her husband abandoned her, Adele (Kate Winslet) avoids going out and remains secluded indoors as much as possible. Henry spends most of his time with her, although some Sunday's he spends with his father, Gerald (Clark Gregg), and his new family. Henry and Adele's life takes an unexpected turn when one weekend morning they go out shopping and encounter an escaped prisoner. Frank (Josh Brolin) forces Adele and Henry to take him to their home where he can hideout and recover from a wound after escaping from a hospital where the prisoner was being treated for appendicitis. At first Adele and Henry are frightened of course, but Frank treats them well and even ends up doing most of the house work. The events that take place during the Labor Day weekend end up changing all their lives forever.
The film tries to balance the suspense and romance, but due to the premise it never seems believable. For instance their's Frank who has to force this family to take him to their home where he should be hiding out and recovering, but he ends up cleaning the place and teaching Henry how to play baseball in the yard. He also teaches them how to cook pies, of course a necessary plot point in order for the audience to forgive Frank for literally taking the family hostage. It also gives the film an excuse to allow Frank and Adele to fall in love with each other, but that seemed completely implausible considering the situation. I never bought into the story and it all felt forced and awkward. Even the friendship blossoming between Henry and the girl from Chicago that had just arrived felt awkward and every single conversation they had felt like an excuse to build unnecessary suspense. I don't consider myself cynical and I tend to enjoy some romantic dramas, but this was one that never felt authentic and where every situation seemed improbable. Labor Day is an unlikely romance that simply didn't work for me and wasted the talents of Winslet and Brolin. The third act is better than the first two, but it just comes a bit too late and it is founded on a relationship I never believed in the first place.