MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Labor Day’ needs to work a lot harder

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First Posted: 2/3/2014

Lifetime movies play an important role in our society. Their gently lurid brand of “Family Circle” approved sleaze has helpfully shepherded millions of insomniacs to their final destination in Dreamland and mercifully nursed many more casual alcoholics through their Sunday morning hangovers. Without Lifetime movies, Heather Graham and Kimberly Williams-Paisley would be free to walk the streets and mothers would never know the true depths of terror that “sleeping with danger” actually entails (for the uninitiated, it involves Tori Spelling and it ain’t pretty). In essence, Lifetime movies are a public service, and like all public services, you shouldn’t have to pay to watch a Lifetime movie. And being that “Labor Day” is just an expensive, more prestigious variation of a Lifetime movie, I’m urging everyone to watch it within the proper context: two years from now, on your couch when you’re too hungover and filled with self-loathing to get up and find the remote.

Playing like somebody stuffed Tennessee Williams, a Thomas Kinkade painting, and 50,000 gallons of sweat in a blender and set it on duh, “Labor Day” tells the empowering and, in no way, regressive story of an agoraphobic single mother (Kate Winslet) who doesn’t have a man in her life and is, therefore, less than human. Fortunately, this fish finally finds her bicycle when an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) literally forces his way into her life. Even though Brolin is a convicted murderer who looks like the “darkest timeline’s” version of Ronald Reagan, he’s actually a really super nice guy who can not only change the oil in Winslet’s car but can also cook a mean peach pie, patiently listen to Winslet’s needs and, unlike some of the other characters in the film, isn’t compelled to punch a child with muscular dystrophy square in his grunting face. In other words, Brolin’s character is less an actual person and more of a boring, depressed housewife’s dreary fantasy. At any rate, Winslet’s and Brolin’s saccharine romance may seem perfect at first glance, but Brolin’s shady past ensures their affair will only end in tears – tears of laughter, and that is because this movie is bananers.

Make no mistake about it, ladies and, uh, well, other ladies, I guess (Let’s face it – the “gentlemen” aren’t coming to this one. Willingly, at least), “Labor Day” is stupid and weird but it’s the right mixture of stupid and weird. This is the kind of movie where an escaped convict carefully hides whenever a neighbor comes knocking on Winslet’s door but for some reason doesn’t see the danger in going outside to fix a car or noodle around on a cello even though the cops are patrolling the neighborhood on an hourly basis. This is the kind of film that views single mothers with a mixture of pity and contempt and doesn’t see the palpable creepiness in having a son give his mother a book of “husband for a day” coupons only to have the son regret the fact that he could never give his mother the “one thing she truly needs.”

“Labor Day” is occasionally off-putting, frequently insulting, and oh so painfully earnest. The film is such an odd misstep that it borders on parody at times, and considering that it was directed by Jason Reitman, maybe it is. But the fact that it probably isn’t still shouldn’t stop all of you “Juno” and “Up in the Air” fans from telling yourselves it is a subtle parody of Lifetime’s bland, cable-ready fare. Repeat it enough times and maybe it will come true! After all, look at “Heaven’s Gate” – people actually now believe it’s a legitimately good movie. Anything is possible if you imagi-dream it!

Rating: W W