by M. Faust
Those of you chafing over the lack of a Nicholas Sparks adaptation in theaters this year will be able to make do with this, a straightfaced tale of impossible love from just about the last source you might expect: Jason Reitman, the writer-director of such glibly comic movies as Juno and Up in the Air.
Here he’s adapting a novel by Joyce Maynard (whom you may recall for her part in livening up J. D. Salinger’s obituaries) set in a semi-rural area of New Hampshire in 1987. Adele (Kate Winslet) lives in a rundown house with her 13-year-old son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) and a persistent dark cloud over her head. Henry thinks she’s depressed over her divorce, but it’s pretty clear that she is one of those people for whom life is either perfect or worthless, and all that makes it perfect is love.
Enter Frank (Josh Brolin), whom they meet on a rare trip into town, bleeding and asking for a ride in a tone that makes Adele feel she can’t say no. They take him home and we try to figure out whether his veiled threats are meant to be intimidating or simply stoic.
Reitman’s chief accomplishment is keeping this stuff ambiguous for as long as he does, which he manages by sticking to the point of view of Henry, who narrates from a less than omniscient vantage point. That we don’t witness the growing affection between Frank and Adele as they realize what similarly wounded souls they are keeps us wondering for awhile, but it also drains the movie of the emotional heights needed to balance out the tales of woe that are eventually revealed. It also keeps us from becoming fully involved with them as the third act tortures us with a lot of poorly executed suspense mechanics. (A happy ending feels tacked on, though no more arbitrary than much of the story.)
Labor Day (the title refers to the weekend on which it takes place and possibly to an event in Adele’s past, though if so it’s rather a tasteless pun) is made with a fair amount of skill and features typically sterling performances from Winslet and Brolin. It also offers a stand-alone sequence illustrating how to make a peach pie, though I was more intrigued by Frank’s chili recipe, which includes a cup of coffee. But overall it’s a glum affair, recommended only to those viewers who don’t feel like they’ve gotten their ticket dollar’s worth unless they leave the theater with a pocket full of wadded tissues.
Watch the trailer for Labor Day
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