It’s not that “Labor Day” is a bad movie, it’s just that it’s a disappointing one. If that sounds harsh consider the following ingredients: Kate Winslet, arguably the best actress of her generation; Josh Brolin, another A-lister known for turning in strong performances; Jason Reitman, the man who helmed the likes of “Up in the Air” and “Juno” and source material from Joyce Maynard, who's “To Die For” enjoyed a solid adaptation from Gus Van Sant; sounds like the making of a film that stands to be a contender for best lists and awards nominations, does it not?
And yet, this project, which has all the trappings of greatness, never manages to soar. “Labor Day” follows Adele and her son, Henry, over the course of a long Labor Day weekend, when they inadvertently become involved with an injured, escaped convict named Frank. As the pair spend time with Frank and learn more of his story they come to find they don’t want him to leave, which only serves to further complicate the situation.
Kate Winslet, who has never turned in a bad performance in the whole of her career, doesn’t break that streak here. She brings the depressed and somewhat neurotic Adele to life with her trademark excellence, just as Brolin delivers the intensity of performance audiences have come to expect. Young Gattlin Griffith is emotive and shows some real talent, but for all their efforts, the film never becomes anything more than mediocre.
This was not Jason Reitman’s first adaptation, his incredible “Up in the Air” was adapted from a novel of the same name, and did what “Labor Day” fails to do: elevate the source material. This time out Reitman chose to remain very faithful to the source material, after making some pretty significant edits with “Up in the Air”. Clearly the talented director felt that the story needed very little help, but whatever he saw doesn’t translate as magically as his fervent fans will hope. There is an ineffable quality in “Thank You For Smoking”, “Juno” and “Up in the Air” that just doesn’t present itself here.
“Labor Day” is perfectly passable, but that registers as a disappointing outcome for a movie that had the potential to be perfect.