I've never had the burning desire to know what a Nicholas Sparks book adapted for the screen by Terrence Malick would look like. Thanks to Jason Reitman, I'll never have to wonder.
Labor Day, Reitman's latest directorial effort, is as bad as you can possibly imagine, considering that it stars two celebrated actors -- Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin -- and relies on a deep bench of bit players to round out its cast, including Tobey Maguire doing voiceover work, J.K. Simmons as a concerned neighbor and James Van Der Beek as a friendly police officer.
It might be worse even, considering that Reitman is the very same guy who brought us Juno and Up in the Air. Yes, it's just about time to start wondering where it all went wrong for the director.
Labor Day is one of the rare films that fails entirely because of its premise. If a movie about the 16th President of the United States stalking and slaughtering vampires can work for me, then I think it's clear I'm more than willing to suspend my disbelief in most cases. But, nebulous as that redline might be, this is well on the other side of it.
Brolin plays as an escaped convict who holes up with a single mother (Winslet) and her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) in an attempt to dodge a police dragnet. Brolin's Frank initially uses the threat of force to turn their house in to an impromptu safehouse, but his cool demeanor and renaissance-man skillset (He bakes! He plays catch! He fixes things!) win over the lonely Henry and his mother Adele, a broken woman so anxious about social interaction that she only leaves the house to get groceries once a month.
Brolin's transformation in the eyes of his captives, ridiculous as it would be over the course of a decade -- takes place over a long holiday weekend -- guess which one!? -- which is laughable. He's terrorizing a woman whose hands shake when she thinks about leaving the house one moment, then he fixes a few gutters and suddenly they're in love.
You almost get the sense that Reitman realized how truly silly this story was and so he threw a bunch of stuff in to give Labor Day some additional weight. Some of it, like the warm colors used throughout, works. But most of it doesn't -- that's triply so for the sickly saccharine scene where Frank takes a hands-on approach to an informal baking class, encouraging his captives to dip their hands in to the filling for a peach pie so they can blend it together. Their hands might be down in the muck together at that moment -- the camera certainly won't let you forget it -- but I'm never buying that this trio could be a big happy family.
Reitman is better than this. Thank You for Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air are legitimately excellent films. Young Adult, his most recent work before this, didn't work for me, but I could at least understand why wanted to make it. Nothing about Labor Day makes sense -- from the story to its directors bewildering decision to expend his talent bringing it to the big screen.