"Labor Day," based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, is in theaters now. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman filed the following report for Time Warner Cable News.
Four years ago, director Jason Reitman made "Up in the Air," a movie that established him, at least to me, as the new version of an old-school Hollywood entertainer, a Billy Wilder for the age of irony. I've been waiting ever since for Reitman to make good on that promise, but it's starting to look like I may have to wait a long time.
Reitman's new film, "Labor Day," is adapted from a Joyce Maynard novel, and it's basically Reitman's lushly crafted version of a Lifetime movie. It's set in 1987 in a leafy New England small town, with Kate Winslet as a depressed single mom whose life with her son is interrupted - or, more accurately, completed - when the two are taken hostage by an escaped prisoner, played by Josh Brolin as a scowling macho in a Stanley Kowalski T-shirt, but with a heart of TV-movie gold.
How do we know what a nice guy Brolin's kidnapper is? He never does anything that's even slightly unstable or dark. The scene that seals the deal, though, is when he shows Kate and her son how to make a peach pie. The film lingers on this overly telegraphed moment of erotic baking as if it were the potter's-wheel scene of "Ghost" as staged by Martha Stewart.
Shot for shot, "Labor Day" feels like the exact movie Jason Reitman wanted to make, which raises the question: Why did he want to make it? The period detail is as fussed over as anything on "Mad Men," and when we finally learn why the Winslet character is so depressed, it's mildly affecting.
I can appreciate that Reitman wants to tell stories that reach out and touch the women in the audience, but must he do it by turning a character like Brolin's convict into such a saint? I'm all for sincerity in filmmaking, but the quality that's defined Reitman's best films, like "Up in the Air" or "Juno," is audacity, and he really needs to get that back.