Dave White
Labor Day Review

Dave's Rating:

1.0

Pie me up, pie me down.

Guys, it's fine to just go out and kinda-sorta kidnap the lady you love. In fact, you don't even have to know her or love her yet. You can just pick one, force youself on her, tie her up and put any children she may have in danger; it's chill. She will not mind one bit as long as deep down you're really a nice person.

Welcome to Labor Day, based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, a novel I have not read but that I'll just assume was as nuanced in its explorations of control and loneliness and bizarre, desperate behavior as this adaptation is not.

It's 1987 and Frank (Josh Brolin), serving time for a murder he didn't exactly mean to commit, has busted out of prison. He takes it on the lam to a local discount store where, with nothing but brutish force of will and no weapon (?!) he manages to bully depressed, divorced mom Adele (Kate Winslet) and her young son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) into helping him escape in their wood-paneled station wagon. Once at their home, he ties them up for appearances and sets about handymanning his way into their hearts.

The prison he was in must have had a hell of a rehabilitation program because Frank is a master of auto repair, carpentry, chili prep, mopping, laundry, furnace-fixing, the rhumba, gutter-sweeping, ironing, grilling, sex, baseball tutorial and pie-making.

It's the latter skills that really seal his position as New Daddy, though. As he assists young Henry -- now freshly re-named Hank for maximum male bonding -- with his ability to choke-up on the bat for more hits, we learn that Frank also controls the sun, as shafts of golden light knock Winslet into a deep swoon. Later, he helps her make a pie in a scene as weirdly and hilariously not-erotic as that pottery wheel moment in Ghost. Then he forks her crust. Not making that up. That the kid is involved in the group pie-love just makes it more uncomfortable.

Frank is a gallant misunderstood murder-guy in a judgmental goofus world and this can only end tragically for all. Or can it? Without giving away the sweeping absurdity of every single scene, suffice to say that enduring for true love takes a lot of extremely weird, laughable shapes. Screenwriter/director Jason Reitman has clearly made something he believes in here, adapting Maynard's book with an eye toward tenderness and wonder. But it's really just a wonder that anyone will be able to watch it with a straight face.

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