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JOSH BROLIN IN LABOR DAY

year: 2014 rating: **1/2
In any romance there needs a tinge of excitement and danger to make it all worthwhile, and LABOR DAY has a premise that true love is not only blind, it can also be illegal…

But the “chick flick” aspect is merely a cover. LABOR is more of a melancholy coming of age story, centering on our narrator voiced by Tobey Maguire, the grownup version of Gattlin Griffith’s Henry, the 7th grade son son of depressed single mother Adele played by Kate Winslet. Taking place in a small town circa 1987, the first act centers on mom and son meeting Frank, a wounded man that happens to be an escaped convict: Herein, Josh Brolin has the slowburn intensity perfect for the role but director Jason Reitman tones down the suspense… as Frank talks Kate and Henry into taking him home… so there’s very little tension, making the eventual thug-to-lug transition not matter like it should.

Brolin and Winslet have a steamy Noir sizzle but their lusty relationship, through the son's eyes, is more perceived than experienced. As the story progresses we’re given sporadic reminders that the law is (literally) just outside the door, and that Frank is a wanted man. Take away the criminal aspect and this is a pretty normal family baking pies, playing catch, and fixing cars. If he's a good husband at night he’s an even better father during the daytime. 

Glimpses into Frank’s past… how he wound up in jail in the first place… are inserted mysteriously, without being intrusive, but the real stuff occurs when young Henry attends school, hangs with a blunt young girl (Maika Monroe), and figures out life on his own: The suspense relies on how much accidental information he’ll disclose about mom – to the local cop or his real dad – who’s no longer so miserable and/or alone.

Perhaps LABOR DAY is too cozy when it should have been more ominous and unpredictable… Feeling like a last ditch effort, the final act provides a mad dash of suspense while the long-winded epilogue, summing up the future of the main characters, desperately crams all the syrupy romance the rest of the movie surprisingly (and for men forced to see this, thankfully) left out.
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