Labor Day

Director Jason Reitman has gone straight. Labor Day is a melodrama that’s quite different from his usual style.

Jason Reitman is known for hip, edgy movies that have a biting wit. Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air and Young Adult have specific points of view on modern American life. They have memorable flawed characters. They have killer opening sequences.

Labor Day, set in a small New Hampshire town over Labor Day weekend 1987, has its flawed characters. But the story has no significant agenda/message. And its title sequence is standard and ho-hum. Reitman wrote the script, based on the novel by Joyce Maynard.

Frank (James Brolin) is an escaped prisoner who chooses young Henry (Gattlin Griffith) and his divorced mom Adele (Kate Winslet) to hide him out in their home. Over this long weekend, Adele, a lonely woman who is beset with anxiety, finds comfort in the arms of this not-so-frightening convicted murderer.

Frank cooks! He feeds his chili (whose ingredients include coffee) by the spoonful to Kate. (He has temporarily tied her and Henry up so that, should authorities bust in, they would not suspect they were aiding and abetting the convict.) When a neighbor (J.K. Simmons) brings a basket of ripe peaches, Frank makes a peach pie with help from Adele and Henry. Yes, the pie making is sensuous.

Along with romancing mom, Frank is nice to Henry. He’s also nice to Barry (Micah Fowler), a handicapped kid who Adele agrees to watch for a few hours.

Reitman teases with flashback snippets of Frank and Adele’s respective early lives and episodes that made them the people they have become. As the flashbacks become more complete, so do the characters.

Of course, most of the film is a flashback, narrated by the adult Henry (Tobey Maguire). The actor portraying the young Henry, Gattlin Griffith, is impressive in his understated performance.

As authorities intensify their manhunt, Frank and Adele make a plan to leave town and take refuge in Canada. This decision leads to the film’s climax, which will not be revealed here.

Reitman’s effort to go mainstream is partially successful. He tells this suspenseful story well, but it moves very slowly at times. Should there have been more graphic evidence of Frank and Adele’s romance? Probably yes, but they wanted a PG-13 rating—more evidence of Reitman’s desire to play to the masses.

Sadly, Labor Day feels like a Lifetime/Hallmark movie with upgraded acting.

 

 

“Young Adult”—(Grow Up, Already!)

The lead character in “Young Adult” is not especially likable. The movie, though, has a lot to like.

We all know people who have moved from a small town to a big city, enjoyed some career success and felt somehow superior to those back home. When they return home, they are sometimes amazed to see folks who are satisfied with their simple small town lives.

Charlize Theron plays Mavis. She’s a divorced writer of young adult novels who leaves Minneapolis to return to her small hometown in outstate Minnesota. Turns out she was a bit of a jerk to most of her classmates in high school. She is not exactly welcomed back with open arms.

Her goal is to reunite with her old hometown boyfriend who is now married and a new dad. She also encounters the class nerd at a bar in the hometown. Patton Oswalt gives an award-worthy performance as the nerd, who becomes a drinking buddy of Mavis.

Another character in the movie is the fictional small town of Mercury, Minnesota. Unlike Garrison Keillor’s fantasy Minnesota town of Lake Wobegon, Mercury has undergone the same transformations many American small towns have experienced. Diablo Cody wrote the script and offers commentary on the fast food chains that dominate the main drag and the attitudes of those who live in Mercury, either by choice or lack of choice.

There are some good laughs in “Young Adult.” Charlize Theron, not exactly known for comedy, can bring it.

The movie also serves up a memorable and seriously flawed character in Mavis. Will you feel sorry for her or will you feel she deserves all her fates? That’s for discussion on the way home from the movie.

The movie is directed by Jason Reitman of “Up in the Air,” “Thank You For Smoking” and “Juno” fame. He again delivers a trademark cool title sequence. “Young Adult,” like those listed, is funny, but also shares viewpoints on modern American life that stay with you after the credits roll.