The Movie Labor Day Will Make You Want to Go to Work

LABOR DAY (2013)
Directed by Jason Reitman
Paramount, 111 minutes, PG-13

I'm such a public servant that I waited until after Labor Day to inflict this bologna sandwich of a film upon you. Nobody should ruin a holiday weekend by watching this piece of detritus. In fact, you should avoid it even a slow Tuesday. This is a very bad movie–one that's too pretentious to be camp and too inept to be considered much of anything else.

Its hook–more like a windup right cross you see coming from a mile away–is an unlikely (impossible?) triad between escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin); a psychologically damaged divorcee, Adele (Kate Winslet); and her obedient 13-year-old son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) who, like all thirteen-year-olds, just wants his mom to be happy. (Do 13-year-olds even admit that they have parents?) The film is set in 1987, a date apparently pulled from a hat. A chance encounter inside a discount store between Frank and Henry leads to a family napping. (What? Nobody thought of screaming for help in a crowded store?) The wounded Frank begs Adele and Henry to let him hole up for a few days until he's strong enough to flee. He's very polite, charming, a great cook, and hunky so, of course, they trust him. I mean, who wouldn't feel secure around a convicted murderer with Josh Brolin's eyes? Within 24 hours, Henry is smitten, Adele is aroused, and everyone is free to come and go without restraint. Because it's a holiday weekend and no trains that Frank can hop are running on the local tracks, the three are stuck with each other for five days. (Odd. I thought there were usually extra trains over holidays. Nor did I realize that everything shut down for five days because of Labor Day. I also thought long weekends were three days long.) A new family unit emerges before our eyes, the only inconvenience being that police cars keep patrolling the neighborhood in search of Frank. That could happen, right?

Is your credulity stretched yet? Wait for it. Adele's neuroses are so severe that her house is falling apart, so Frank spends his days fixing up the old homestead. In addition to being a great cook he's also a mason, a carpenter, a floor washer, a plumber, and pretty handy at fixing shingles. The guy who is too weak to go on the lam lifts rocks, swings a mean hammer, and spends a lot of time outside on a ladder, the roof, and the porch–despite all those police cars and a street full of neighbors. There's a lame explanation for all of this. If you buy it, you'll probably also believe that women fall in love when a man makes a peach pie. Yes, peach pie is also a plot device–device being the key word. This film has it all–nosy neighbors, a too-helpful local cop, a Goth girl interested in Henry, a weak-kneed biological father, flash-backs that explain how Frank ended up in jail, a flash forward to an adult Henry (Tobey Maguire in a cameo), and even an implausible attempt to run away as a family to Prince Edward Island. Why Prince Edward Island? Why not? It makes about as much sense as anything else in a film riddled with gaffes, clich├ęs, and more holes than a tweed jacket at a moth picnic.

This film even managed to tick me off on a personal level. Much of it was filmed in nearby Shelburne Falls. For reasons that have to do with offering tax avoidance candy to filmmakers, Western Massachusetts is occasionally a location site. Aside from part of The Ciderhouse Rules (1999) though, nobody has made a watchable film emanating from this region since Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). Labor Day made me want to march on Boston and demand a rebate on my taxes. –Rob Weir

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