It is a testament to the admirable talent involved in “Labor Day” that parts of this romantic drama are worth watching. Gifted director Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air,” “Thank You for Smoking” two of the best films of their respective years) has cast Josh Brolin as Frank, a prison escapee, and Kate Winslet as Adele, a divorced single mom, and on paper it’s a match made in cinematic heaven.
But the potential for Oscar -nominee smoldering romance quickly devolves into Lifetime channel pseudo-seduction.
When Frank, still recovering from injuries suffered during his escape, uses Adele’s son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) to persuade Adele to take him home and give him shelter, the movie launches into melodramatic territory that seems ripe for a Saturday Night Live parody.
It turns out Frank is much more than a hardened criminal chock full of brooding charisma. Deciding to hideout during a long weekend in order to catch the next train out of town, Frank fixes the family car, cleans out the rain gutters, oils a squeaky door, soothes with a cold compress a handicapped neighbor, and makes a mean pot of chili. And that all happens in less time than it took the Seattle Seahawks to score on the first play of the Super Bowl.
The message appears simple: Women can be seduced by a killer, especially if he is a killer handyman.
While there may be some truth to that idea, just try to contain your uproarious outburst when Frank wraps his strapping, prison-iron forged arms around Adele in order to teach her how to make peach pie. Or when he teaches her to hit a baseball, in case you didn’t feel the erotic tension the first time.
For those less cynical viewers, “Labor Day” is a nicely shot, non-graphic walk through innuendo-lined park, and is based on the novel written by Joyce Maynard. (She was rumored to have been J.D.Salinger’s teen lover). It is also that rare coming-of-age story that isn’t based on the usual elements – specifically sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.
So perhaps “Labor Day” for some would be a terrific date movie, especially if you are in the mood for an unintentional comedy.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, sexuality and brief violence.