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Unbelievable plot derails 'Labor Day'

Paramount

By Carly Keyes, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 2, 2014

When Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin, “Gangster Squad”) escapes from prison and forces a chronically depressed single mother, Adele Wheeler (Kate Winslet, “Movie 43”), and her grew-up-way-too-fast son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith, “Under the Bed”) to give him a ride, it becomes an unexpected “Labor Day” weekend, where bending the rules fosters a mending of emotions.

Based on a novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard, director Jason Reitman (“Young Adult”) also adapts the story for the screen in this effort, but despite his able direction and the talented performance, the story itself is just too unbelievable and unconventional to have any shot at all of being taken seriously in a dramatic interpretation.

Adele and Henry first meet Frank when they come into town for their monthly trip to the grocery store. Adele doesn’t get out much, and later we learn why. When Frank randomly appears and asks them for a ride, Adele objects, but as soon as he places his hands suggestively around Henry’s neck, she caves and does as he wishes. No gun. No serious threat. No sign of imminent danger. Even someone with severe depression has the ability to yell “Help!” in the middle of a public place when her child is threatened.

Of course, when Frank gets in the car, he no longer just wants a ride (Clearly, Adele never read Henry that infinitely wise children’s book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”), but to stay at their house until nightfall when he can make a run for the train tracks and try to hop the first one out of there. Then, it turns out that due to the holiday weekend the trains aren’t running. It’s simply a lame logistical excuse for him to stay in the picture longer, and maybe that’s how it happens in the book, but if so, then that’s pretty lame, too.

But it becomes a moot point, because in the course of 36 hours of fixing a few things around the house and teaching Adele and Henry about the joys of cooking, Frank has transformed from a gruff, scary escaped convict and now cemented himself as a new love interest for Adele and a new dad-like persona for Henry.

When we learn that Adele’s depression derives from an impossibly tragic history of trying to get pregnant with her former husband — a series of miscarriages and then a stillborn daughter — it’s easy to understand why she might cling to the first man in years who’s shown her kindness. And without his dad in his life, playing surrogate man of the house for years, it’s even easier to grasp why Henry would welcome the attention of a middle-aged guy who falls for his mom and authentically wants to teach him how to hit a baseball, but this brings me to possibly the largest flaw of the narrative.

A majority of the moments meant to warm us up to Frank’s character and root for him occur … outside. But, isn’t Frank a hotly pursued fugitive on the run in a small town? Wouldn’t it be suspicious if this seriously wanted man were to be constantly outside fixing things around the house and playing baseball with a notoriously depressed woman and her young boy? It was impossible for me to enjoy these moments; My brain was too busy staring at the gaping plot holes in Reitman’s script.

In a well-written film, the audience naturally sympathizes with characters who struggle to get what they want, but in “Labor Day,” these struggles are just too pathetic and extreme, and it makes for an unfamiliar scenario too riddled with holes to relate to.