To be fair, it is a very tasty-looking pie, pieced together family-style by the three lead actors — Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin and Gattlin Griffith — in a sequence that will have you salivating over the pie’s flaky goodness the same way “The Help” made one foam at the mouth for southern fried chicken.
Unfortunately, it is a very short sequence in this otherwise maudlin melodrama based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, which is more often about the romance Winslet and Brolin strike up over the course of one particularly sweat-filled Labor Day weekend.
What separates the lachrymose “Labor Day” from most romances of this ilk is that Brolin and Winslet’s love is doomed before the two of them even meet. Brolin plays Frank, a wounded escaped con who finds refuge in the home of depressed single mother Adele (Winslet) and her son Henry (Griffith), both of whom become Frank’s hostages knowing the police could come banging on the front door at any moment.
Alas, do not fret. Because “Labor Day” is a movie, Brolin’s Frank is a nice-guy sort of ex-con, one who is quite proficient at baking and other household chores, including changing the car’s oil or cleaning the rain gutters in broad daylight, both of which seem unlikely because Adele’s neighbors are fully aware there is a mysterious criminal on the loose.
“Labor Day” was written and directed by Jason Reitman, whose “Juno” and “Up in the Air” were terrific entertainments, but this one is closer to his “Young Adult,” quality-wise, partly because the tone is so monotonously bleak and partly because it carries a flashback structure that only serves to get in the way of the main storyline. “Labor Day” irritatingly withholds secrets from us until the final 20 minutes of the film, at which point you may find yourself wondering why they needed the secrets in the first place.
It’s worth mentioning that the movie does finally begin to pay off once it gets to where it was going, but by then, it’s too little too late. All three actors are swell in their roles, but the material they’re given is so rote you might as well think of the movie as “Belabored Day.”
★★ out of ★★★★
Rated PG-13. 111 minutes.
Director: Jason Reitman.
Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin.