HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Labor Day
HTS Overall Score:76
Romantic movies are rather hit and miss, especially those targeting a more mature demographic, rather than watching goofy teenage love. “Labor Day” is more a throwback to the romances of the 50’s and 60’s rather than any modern day romance we’re used to. It seems that they were trying for more of a “Nicholas Sparks” type of tone, and the intention is well received, it’s just the execution that is a bit of a bumpy ride. The trailers for the film were a bit overly sappy and I wondered if they were actually going to continue that tone for the movie, it seemed that it must have been true because I know the film didn’t make more than $50 at the theaters. However, I’m actually a bit of a sucker for a good romance so I’d end up watching this with the wife over the weekend. Strangely enough, I actually ended up liking the film a bit more than she did, and she’s the kind of girl who will curl up on the couch with a blanket in rapt attention with these types of movies.
The story is narrated by the son, Hank (narrated as an adult by Tobey MaGuire and played as a child by Gattlin Griffith), and is told through his point of view. He’s barley into his puberty stage and lives with his clinically depressed mother, Adele (Kate Winslet). Life is fairly normal for a child in a broken family, he has to more or less take care of his shut in mother, living day to day, until one fateful Labor Day weekend. At the grocery story Henry runs into Frank (Josh Brolin), a newly escaped convict. Utilizing a bit of intimidation Frank takes Adele and Henry hostage at their own home, so that he can rest up and leave that night via the trains. As luck would have it, Frank is a rather mild mannered man. He makes it very clear that he means them no harm and will be on his way as soon as possible. After dark they come to the realization that the trains aren’t going to come for the next few days, since it’s a holiday weekend. Now it seems Frank has to stay a few more days.
Being the good hearted country boy that his is, Frank helps out around the home, fixing things, showing Adele how to make the perfect peach pie etc. As Franks real nature is on display, Adele starts to come out of her depression as she has someone that she can share a common tragedy with. Frank has been convicted of murder by negligence and Adele is dealing with her own tragic past that creates a unique bond between the two. After a long 5 days of knowing each other, Frank and Adele decide to pack up and move to Canada, start a new life as a family and begin afresh. The only problems is that Henry has met a new girl and she’s thrown some monkey wrenches into the plan. As the film hurtles towards it’s inevitable conclusion we see whether the bonds forged through necessity are ones that can withstand the stresses ahead or built upon sinking sand.
The film had a lot of potential and was what I would like to call “2/3 good”. The first and the 3rd acts were quite good, but the 2nd act threw in a lot of unnecessary and unresolved plot twists. Kate Winslet did a decent job as the damaged goods mother, and here fear showed very readily in every scene that she did. My only complaint with her was that the real reason for her depression came out of nowhere and didn’t seem to add much to the story. It did make me go “ah, I could see that making her depressed”, but it wasn’t a game changed, just a side plot. The really pleasant surprise comes from Josh Brolin. I usually don’t think of Josh Brolin when I think of leading romance man, I tend to think of him playing the brooding villain or hulking hero, but he used his awkwardness and country boy voice to his advantage here. He played a good old fashioned 50’s gentlemen here, allowing his awkwardness to be used as a charming personality quirk here. He did have to act a bit aggressively once or twice out of necessity, but he really made you believe in his simple, kindheartedness.
The 2nd act is where I had the most issues. Here’s where they had to throw in some friction to the budding romance. Henry runs into Mandy (Maika Monroe), a snotty girl from Chicago who starts throwing doubts and confusion into Henry’s psyche. Then once it comes to a head her character is just sidelined and it becomes obvious that her only role in the movie was to create an inciting incident that will bring suspicion on the budding romance. It’s a cheesy romance as it is, but the inclusion of this plot twist is out of left field and exits stage right just as abruptly. Once we get to the third act it becomes obvious as to the initial conclusion, but it’s really what happens AFTER Frank gets caught where I was pleasantly surprised. I won’t spoil the actual ending, but it was hauntingly sweet and really made the movie for me. One other really interesting plot device was how they showed little snippets of Frank’s past, just momentary glimpses that were short lived, but built on one another in order to explain his crime instead of just blurting it out in a dialogue. It was really inventive and worked well. Overall the movie isn’t a fantastic movie, but I didn’t think it was the train wreck that a lot of critics heaped on the film. It was an enjoyable watch with the wife (although she did get annoyed with me when I kept saying “LOOK IT’S AGENT COULSON!!!” every time Henry’s father appeared on screen).
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, brief violence and sexuality
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=16402[/img]Paramount’s 2.40:1 AVC encode is a very satisfying encode. The detail is rich and sumptuous throughout, showcasing the fantastic Massachusetts country area and showering us with beautiful scenes. The outdoors was wonderfully bright with summer colors, the rich earthy tones shined throughout, homey feeling. The peach pie scene was fantastic to contrast the rich colors of the peaches with the dull and worn down look of the country home. Facial detail was amazing, allowing us to see the freckles on Kate Winslet’s face as well as the oil seeping into Frank’s skin when he’s changing the oil on their station wagon. Black levels are appropriately dark and inky, only showing a few scenes where the bright contrasts would wash out a few of the blacks. Skin tones are picture perfect and give everything you could have asked for. Overall a VERY pleasing picture, and there are no digital anomalies to mess up the encode either as it’s been given a full BD-50 with limited extras to play with.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=16418[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track does its job quite suitably as well. It’s a very dialogue centric film and, as such, it shows the pros and limitations of that the genre. The dialogue is well done, crisp and clean, well balanced with the rest of the audio. I never once had to adjust the volume to hear the dialog. The only downside is that the LFE and surrounds aren’t as active as a 5 star track. The ambient noises and the surrounds are actually very pleasing, bringing out the nuanced details of a farm house, but the majority of the heavy lifting stays in the front 3 speakers. LFE is used mildly, and only comes out to play in a few scenes, although there is some added weight in doors slamming and the roar of a car engine starting throughout. It’ a very good track and does its job well, it’s only real fault being the limitation of a dialog centric movie.
• Commentary by director Jason Reitman, director of photography Eric Steelberg and first assistant director/co-producer Jason Blumenfeld
• End of Summer: Making "Labor Day"
• Deleted Scenes
Director Jason Reitman does a decent job at giving us a nice throwback romance, but that middle act just really lets us down, making a decent movie into a “meh” movie. I enjoyed the 1st and 3rd acts, and the wife liked it nearly as much as I did. It was refreshing to see a romance between a more adult couple, rather than the clichéd young romance. There were some faults, and it definitely had that tragic Nicholas Sparks vibe to it, but I have no doubt that “Labor Day” got a bit of a raw deal in its theatrical run. It was only in theaters a few weeks and wasn’t given much room to make any money and instead has to rely on home video sales. It’s nothing stellar, but still a fun watch for a weekend. I’d at least give it a rental for a date night.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Jason Reitman
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, French, Spanish, Portuguese DD 5.1
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Runtime: 111 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: April 29th, 2014
Buy Labor Day Blu-ray on Amazon
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