Movie Review

February 6, 2014

Respected actors unable to make 'Labor Day' work

Kate Winslet is a gifted actress who could probably make an infomercial or a PBS pledge drive watchable.

She can’t, however, rescue the disappointingly dreary romance “Labor Day.”

Based on a Joyce Maynard novel and released nowhere near its namesake holiday, “Labor Day” is a wildly contrived melodrama that doesn’t generate any heat and can’t manufacture any tears, even when it tries (really hard) to be sad.

Winslet plays Adele, a divorced and depressed woman who has become a virtual shut-in, dreading something as mundane as a quick trip to the grocery store in her quaint 1987 New Hampshire small town.

Her tween son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) does what he can to take care of his mother, but there’s only so much a boy can do.

Fortunately for them, they chance upon Frank, an injured escaped convict who gently kidnaps them and takes refuge in their home for the holiday weekend.

Josh Brolin, a fine actor in his own right, plays the hunky criminal straight out of a Harlequin romance. Limping and bleeding, Frank quickly sets about cooking, cleaning, fixing the car and teaching Henry how to play baseball. It’s not long before the sheltered Adele begins to swoon — in fact, it happens in almost the blink of an eye. Oh, what will the neighbors say?

Written and directed by Jason Reitman, who has provided sharp, clever and funny fare like “Up in the Air” and “Juno,” “Labor Day” is surprisingly clunky and hokey.

The relationship between Adele and Frank is more uncomfortable than romantic, and the only hints of humor are a few unintentionally campy moments. Winslet and Brolin do their best with the material, but the romance barely registers warmth, let alone heat.

It doesn’t help that none of the supporting characters — save for the brief appearances of Clark Gregg as Adele’s ex — seem like real human beings. That cop is too curious, that neighbor is too pushy, that new girl at school is too … everything.

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