Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

29 December 2013

Labor Day - Bad Title, Worse Movie.

Labor Day is awful.

When I saw the first trailer, I thought: Oh, these performances look interesting, and I do love a nice coming-of-age tale about an awkward young man who loves his mother a little more than he probably should. The trailer also boasted a scene with a shootout (the little boy crouches on what looks like a sofa while bullets tear up the walls around him), as well as a scene with James Van Der Beek as a policeman who gets wise to the goings-on. Also, I love Kate Winslet, and I've liked all of Jason Reitman's films.

I am not quite sure at what point I started to get really angry at Labor Day, but it was pretty early on in the movie. See, the movie is narrated as a long-form flashback by the grown-up version of the young man in the movie. And that grown-up is Tobey Maguire, whose voice is stuck in the back of his throat at all times, as though he is still afraid he's going to get the wrong answer to a question in class.

Tobey Maguire, however, is not the main problem in Labor Day. The main problem with this film is the source material. Reitman's movie (he also penned the screenplay) is based on a novel by Joyce Maynard. OK, in truth, I cannot speak for the source material, but the screenplay is nothing but a series of romantic movie-clichés rolled into the service of a silly melodrama. Labor Day is basically a Zac Efron movie with older actors (I'm thinking particularly of The Lucky One). This film has A-list stars who get nominated for Academy Awards and is directed by a filmmaker who makes excellent, awards-level fare (Up in the Air, Thank You for Smoking, Young Adult), but Labor Day is nothing more than a bit of Nicholas Sparks fluff dressed up to look as though it might actually approach something akin to tragedy. This is a masquerade of a film. A romance novel pretending to be a drama.

More than a year ago I wrote a review of the Nichols Sparks/Zac Efron/Scott Hicks movie The Lucky One, and I called it "exhaustingly formulaic, unabashedly heteronormative, filled with inane dialogue, excruciatingly white, and cloyingly sentimental." I want to say all of those things again in reference to Labor Day except that this time the dialogue is worse –
K: I wish I could give you a family.
J: You already have. [clunk clunk clunk]
This is James Van Der Beek at TIFF.
Just an excuse for me to post this pic.
K: I don't want to lose you.
J: I'd trade 20 years in prison for another 5 days with you.
[To which my cousin Angela muttered "Well that's not very smart"]
the cast is whiter, the heteronormativity is even more pronounced, the misogyny is more outrageous, the sentiment is more forced, plus Labor Day doesn't have any fun, older festive aunts or grandmothers or anything like that to make sassy remarks and tell the woman she's in love before she even realizes it (this character is played by Blythe Danner in The Lucky One, but there's nothing similar to a figure like this in Labor Day).

The performances aren't exactly bad in Labor Day, but there is nothing remotely approaching storytelling that makes even a little bit of sense here. The entire thing is, frankly, embarrassing. A little boy spends a long, Labor Day weekend with an escaped prisoner, and this man teaches him (apparently) all the things he will need to know in order to succeed later in life. Incidentally, we do find out why the man is in prison, and the film behaves as though what he did was somehow justifiable. The unabashed sexism in the film's apologia for its hero's crime is blatantly misogynist and horribly offensive.

This film is a chore. Avoid.