A key moment in "Labor Day" has the character Frank, an escaped convict (Josh Brolin), demonstrating the proper way to make a pie. His point is that it's not the ingredients that make a pie good but how they are put together.
Director/writer Jason Reitman should have followed that recipe in putting together the movie. The film has wonderful performances by Brolin and Kate Winslet, who plays emotionally broken single mom Adele. And it's a romance that should be enjoyed with someone you love. The problem is a tempo that would have to double in speed to reach a snail's speed, a script full of contrivances and the most ominous musical soundtrack since "Halloween."
Based on the book of the same name by Joyce Maynard, the story unfolds in New England over one steamy Labor Day weekend. Adele, a woman in the grips of deep depression, musters up enough courage to take her son shopping for school clothes. That's when they meet and are taken hostage by a bleeding Frank. This encounter is the first major hurdle in the forced logic of Reitman's script. If you can ignore the many opportunities for the film to have ended in the first 10 minutes, the story shifts to Adele's home, where Frank seeks refuge.
For a movie that moves at such a plodding pace, the relationship between Frank and Adele rockets along. Brolin brings a dark charisma to Frank. Within a few hours, Adele's gone from a woman wracked with guilt and suffering to being obsessed with her captive. This kind of whiplash-speed emotional change is a major hurdle to get past.
Then there's Henry. Reitman doesn't quite seem to know what to do with him. There are moments when the teen shows glimmers of an Oedipus complex and then quickly becomes a youngster desperately looking for a father figure — even if the one he selects is a murderer. There are also touches of Henry's own emerging sexuality, but those scenes play more uncomfortable than compelling.
Had Reitman been able to bring the interesting ingredients together in a more unified manner, "Labor Day" would have been a sweet, old-fashioned love story. Instead, Reitman is more interested in creating atmosphere. It's really not necessary to watch every knot being tied when Frank binds Adele or to see the pie turn to a golden brown in the oven. That time could have gone to working out key plot potholes such as Frank's backstory or Adele's roller coaster emotional state.
"Labor Day" is like a pie with no crust. The filling is good, but it just doesn't hold together.
"Labor Day," rated PG-13 for adult themes, brief violence. Stars Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet, Gattlin Griffith. Directed by Jason Reitman. Running time: 111 minutes. Grade: C-
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.