This Ain't Titanic 

Labor Day's Dull Fugitive Drama

LABOR DAY Josh Brolin: the world's worst backseat driver.

LABOR DAY Josh Brolin: the world's worst backseat driver.

AFTER THE ADVANCE SCREENING of Kate Winslet's new movie Labor Day, an audience member said, loudly and with considerable forced cheer, "I loved her in Titanic!"

Winslet's done plenty of great work since Titanic, of course—Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Little Children come immediately to mind—but her performance in Labor Day is so muted and wan that it's understandable audience members found themselves reaching for fonder memories.

In Labor Day, Winslet plays Adele, a milquetoast young mother suffering from white lady movie-depression (white lady movie-depression is characterized by slowly drinking tea out of handmade mugs, sitting perfectly still under colorful afghans, and staring mournfully out rain-streaked windows at improbably well-maintained backyards). Her young son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith), is a preternaturally poised kid with aggressive eyebrows whose inner monologue is voiced by Tobey Maguire. When Mom and Son encounter escaped fugitive Frank (Josh Brolin) at the grocery store, Frank sorta-kidnaps them in what has to be the most low-stakes abduction scene in cinema history. (He's like, "Drive me to your house! I'm bleeding! I'm going to play baseball with your son!" And Kate Winslet is like "okay" and then they sexily make a pie together and Josh Brolin shows her the right way to finger a pie crust, not even joking.)

Frank was in prison for killing his wife, but it's cool, his wife was super asking for it by being a skank. He escaped from prison by jumping out the window of a hospital after having his appendix out; there's a bloodstain from his leaky appendectomy wound on the white T-shirt he for some reason never changes.

Everyone in their tiny New Hampshire town is on edge about the escaped fugitive, and really nosy to boot, especially Dawson from Dawson's Creek, whose jawline plays a police officer. But Frank wins over Henry and Adele by doing manly chores around the house, and ultimately convinces them to run away to Canada with him, where they will be a real family instead of a depressing half-family, like Adele and Henry were before Frank came along.

The problem with Labor Day—other than it basically being extremely tedious—is that it isn't content to focus on the five days that Frank spends with Adele and Henry. Instead, those five days are bracketed by flashbacks, backstory, and an over-detailed epilogue. If half as much time were spent on developing these characters as is spent just straight-up telling us what happens to them, an emotional core might've had a chance to emerge. Instead, it's like listening to a stranger explain, in detail, their relationship with their mother. Director Jason Reitman (Juno, Young Adult) is clearly making a bid for Serious Director status with this one, but Labor Day is a bland, tedious misfire.

Labor Day
Rated PG-13 · 111 minutes · 2014
Director: Jason Reitman
Producer: Lianne Halfon, Russell Smith, Jason Reitman, Helen Estabrook, Steven Rales, Mark Roybal, Michael Beugg and Jeffrey Clifford
Cast: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tobey Maguire, Clark Gregg, Tom Lipinski, Maika Monroe, J.K. Simmons, James Van Der Beek, Brooke Smith, Dylan Minnette, Brighid Fleming, Alexie Gilmore, Lucas Hedges and Micah Fowler

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