This year's closing night feature at the 22nd annual Philadelphia Film Festival was Jason Reitman's upcoming drama, Labor Day. While the selection felt a bit puzzling from the onset, I still managed to arouse some excitement for an ultra-early screening of the Christmas Day release. But despite having Academy Award Winner Kate Winslet in a starring role and Oscar-regular Jason Reitman set to direct, Labor Day is a hapless reminder that Christmas won't be coming early this year.
Adele (Kate Winslet) is the depressed and divorced mother of her teenage son Henry. When they venture out to the grocery store to make some routine purchases, a recently escaped and wounded criminal named Frank (Josh Brolin) bullies them into harboring him for the night. Yet, what's only intended to be a short term disruption, turns into an unexpected set of circumstances that extend throughout the entire Labor Day weekend.
Jason Reitman's Labor Day is a grossly dramatic affair that falls victim to an unlikely and inordinate collection of situations. Nothing about the feature makes any logical sense. Brolin stars as an escaped convict on the run who decides to spend his newly found freedom fixing cars and cleaning gutters in the middle of the day while a community-wide manhunt is under way. Although Kate Winslet and Brolin try their best to mask Reitman's glaring onscreen absurdities with a pair of heartwarming performances, the baffling situations that arise time and time again make their efforts a lost cause. And at the end of the day, Labor Day is an imposing piece of fluff that fails to resonate on any level.
For all of its weaknesses, none of the blame deserves to be placed on Reitman's fine set of cast members. Winslet and Brolin are beyond serviceable in their leading roles and additional praise should be given for youngster Gattlin Griffith's admirable performance. Griffith truly captures the essence of a bashful and lonesome teenager struggling with his entry into adulthood and understanding of the world around him. However, outside of Reitman's cast, the director's latest attempt is completely off the mark. Whether it's the hokey usage of flashbacks in the story or the off kilter manner in which the sequence of events unfold, nothing about Labor Day feels natural.
With expectations of history repeating itself, many anticipated that Labor Day would mark a triumphant return to the heart of the awards season debate for Jason Reitman. But to the contrary, elements of charm and charismatic humor that reigned prevalent in the director's past work are nowhere to be found. As a big fan of Up in the Air, Junoand even the under-seen and under-appreciated Young Adult, Reitman strays from the norm and appears extremely lost. With the success of his previous films, Reitman clearly has discovered his niche. Let's just hope he returns there sooner rather than later.