“I don’t think losing my father broke my mother’s heart, but rather losing love itself.”
Adele is a nervous and depressed, single (and quite frankly incompetent) mother whose son Henry acts as the adult in the house and cares for her. They both yearn for a strong male figure; a father for Henry and a husband for Adele. Enter Frank, a convicted murderer, fresh off a prison break and on the run. He meets them in a grocery store and half convinces, half forces them to shelter him in their home until he can make a clean getaway. There is no rhyme or reason why she would agree to this other than the strong desire for a man in the house. In his mere four days with them he becomes a handy man and fixes everything around the house, he cooks for them (in one overly extended sequence cut and pasted straight from the Cooking Channel a beautiful golden pie is produced), plays some overly cliched games of catch with Henry and manages to make Adele fall in love with him; him, a murderer. Completely disregarding his criminal status, Adele allows him to step into their life just in time to rescue her from a certain fall and become everything her and Henry ever wanted. The story is awkward enough but the cherry on top of this strange narrative is that at the end the couple plans to flee to Canada, get married and start a life together. They even get as far as packing the entire house up before the police pull up and make an arrest that should have happened two hours ago at the start of the film.
Labor Day wants to plead a case for blind, unconditional love but it’s too far out there to succeed in being any kind of romance. No tears are shed for Adele and Frank because it’s just too illogical that they’re actually in love. There is a wisp of a strong idea in this (woman in need of love meets runaway criminal, he turns out to have a heart of gold, they get married etc. etc.) but the execution fell too far from the mark and it is nearly impossible to take Labor Day seriously. It’s close to absurd. Several moments, mostly tender ones shared by Adele and Frank, are uncomfortable to sit through forcing audiences to mock scenes that were intended to evoke an emotional reaction. The sole memorable part of the film is the pie baking scene in which a gorgeous peach pie is captured from every angle from beginning to end of the cooking process. But it’s so out of place that it destroys any chance Labor Day has of being taken seriously.
Jason Reitman’s direction is boring and does nothing to straighten out a narrative with already confusing motives. It’s an interesting mix of romance and suspense that doesn’t blend; the romance isn’t romantic and the suspense isn’t suspenseful. Oddly placed and puzzling flashbacks leave more loose ends than answers about Frank’s past.
Not even fine performances from decorated actors Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin can save this disaster of a film. What wanted to be a beautiful love story was written and pulled together so poorly it’s almost comical. In theory, Labor Day begs to be, and with several major tweaks might have been, a deep and moving message about the unconditionality of love. But on screen it is far too easy to laugh at and will be remembered only for what a joke it turned out to be.