By Gina Scialabba/The Guardsman
If you’re into suspending all belief in reality and watching escapist, romantic fantasy love stories like “The Notebook” or “Titanic,” director Jason Reitman’s newest film “Labor Day” will be right up your alley.
The tale of doomed paramours. It’s nothing new.
The arts are thematically littered with it—books, poems, movies and music. From Greek tragedies to Shakespearean star-crossed lovers to soap operas and even Lady Gaga, the goddess of love, audiences have always swooned for a bad romance.
Why? Because the tragic romance genre sells. Don’t get me wrong. Romantic stories are not all inherently bad.
Old Will Shakespeare cornered the market on pulling at our heartstrings with “Romeo and Juliet.” Emily Brontë gave us Heathcliff and Catherine in “Wuthering Heights.”
But this movie is far from a Renaissance or Victorian classic.
Kate Winslet plays Adele, a divorced, severely depressed single mother who rarely leaves the house anymore. Adele is practically single-handedly raising her 13-year-old son Henry (Gattlin Griffith). Her ex-husband has a life of his own with a picture-perfect wife and two kids.
Life is dismal for the two. So dismal that Henry feels the need to take Adele on dates (when she musters up the courage to walk out her front door) to cheer her up and then they sit in a hammock while Adele tells Henry about making love to a woman.
There’s some psychosexual Oedipal complex themes running through the film, but Reitman doesn’t explore it further.
Never fear. Things in this New Hampshire town are about to get real. A tall, dark and handsome stranger is coming to rescue Adele and Henry.
Meet Frank (Josh Brolin). He’s an escaped convict with a penchant for murder, false imprisonment, baking pies and rescuing damsels in distress.
Sure, he threatens and kidnaps both Adele and Henry and forces them back to their house, where he bounds and gags them, but really, he’s just what the doctor ordered.
At least, that’s what Reitman and his fairy tale story attempts to shove down the audience’s throat. In the scenes between Frank and Adele, I kept hearing that ‘80s Bonnie Tyler song “I Need a Hero” in my head.
What’s more painfully corny about this movie is how quickly Frank and Adele cozy up and play house. The relationship between captor and hostage quickly transforms.
Over the span of four days Frank takes on the role of the father and husband. Adele is saved from herself. Henry has a father who teaches him about “men things” like playing baseball and changing a tire.
Ironically, Frank is doing all of this out in the open air, despite the fact that his photograph is plastered everywhere and the police are on an all-out manhunt, including road closures and going door-to-door.
However, this Danielle Steel-type of contrived story is disappointing coming from a fine director such as Reitman. He’s made several smart, realistic satires that exemplify his uncanny understanding of human nature with “Juno,” “Up in the Air” and “Thank You for Smoking.”
What Reitman does in “Labor Day” is reduce Winslet to a sobbing, weepy mess who can’t even consider happiness without a “real man” to make her whole.
This portrayal swiftly devalues the role of strong, single mothers and sends an all-too-clear message that a house is not a home until the man is there.
Should you go? Well, that depends. If it’s Valentine’s Day and you’ve watched “The Notebook” or read “Twilight” so many times you can recite them from memory, then go right ahead.
If you want to see a movie where Kate Winslet truly shines, watch “Revolutionary Road,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or “Mildred Pierce.”
If you go……
Run Time: 111 Minutes
Opening Date: Jan. 31, 2014
Directed by Jason Reitman
Based on the Novel by Joyce Maynard