'Labor Day' Review: Best. Kidnapper. Ever.
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'Labor Day' Review: Best. Kidnapper. Ever.

By Dustin Rowles | Film Reviews | January 31, 2014 | Comments ()


Jason Reitman’s Labor Day opens, thereabouts, with a meet cute inside of a grocery store in 1987. Frank (Josh Brolin) bumps into a soon-to-be-7th grader, Henry (Gattlin Griffith), who introduces Frank to his mom, Adele (Kate Winslet). Adele, who has been suffering from an acute case of the blues for a few years, brings Frank back to their home. Frank makes them some dinner, spoon feeds it romantically to Adele, and ends up staying the night. The next day, Frank takes to fixing up the house. He’s handy with the car, he cleans the gutter, fixes the furnace, and even takes some time out of his day to teach the boy, Henry, how to throw a baseball.

Within a matter of 24 hours or so, Adele falls madly love with Frank, and why shouldn’t she? He’s the perfect man: Mysterious, good looking, great around the house, a fantastic father figure, and — as it turns out — he knows how to make one hell of a peach pie. He and Adele sit on the porch and chat. They play out in the yard with Henry. They cuddle and fawn over one another, and dance the rumba. They are perfect together, so perfect in fact that Adele’s sads completely vanish as she falls deeper in love with Frank, and they begin to plan their life together.

… oh, wait. I think there’s something I failed to mention. That meet cute at the grocery store wasn’t so much a meet cute as a kidnapping, and the reason why Frank was spoon-feeding Adele was because he had tied her to a chair. Oh, and Frank had escaped prison by jumping out of a second-story hospital window after an appendicitis operation. One more thing. He was in prison for murder, and he was hiding out in Adele’s house to avoid being sent back to prison.

But those are minor points, right?

A few years ago, I watched a Robert Redford movie called Three Days of the Condor (or what my wife likes to call The Misogynist Always Rings Twice). There’s a scene in it where Robert Redford’s character — who is attempting to evade men out to kill him — abducts Faye Dunaway’s character and holes up in her apartment. I forget the exact situation, but I think he handcuffs her to a radiator inside of her small kitchen. You’d think this would be problematic for Dunaway’s character, who is feisty and antagonistic, and who you wouldn’t imagine would have much need for a man that tied her up at gunpoint. But for whatever reason, it turns her on. After Redford’s character roughs her up, they end up fucking. It’s a weird and vaguely unsettling sequence, not unlike watching Kate Winslet’s character in Labor Day fall in love with Frank.

But he’s so good with the grout work, how could she not be smitten?

That’s not the fatal flaw of Labor Day, however. It’s just the most troubling aspect. The bigger problem with Labor Day is that it comes off like a languid, better shot Nicholas Sparks movies, which is not something one expects from Jason Reitman, the guy behind Up in the Air and Juno. It’s too straightforward, too predictable. It’s like Under the Tuscan Sun, only instead of Tuscany, it’s the woman’s own house, and instead of meeting a handsome man, she is kidnapped by one.

There’s no catch, either: A guy escapes prison, threatens a woman’s son if she doesn’t take him back to her house, and then he falls in love with her, and the two hatch a plan to escape together before the cops hunt him down. Everything else is character building, only the character of Frank has only one note: He’s a really, really handsome kidnapper with mad baking and carpentry skills.

It’s not a terrible film, though, just a slow, predictable and implausible one. Winslet is her usual fantastic self; Brolin is suitably hot and manly with just the right amount of domesticity to make him more alluring and not overly threatening, and the kid — who narrates the story from the future (voiced by Tobey Maguire) — is fine, too. Clark Gregg is a particular stand-out in a small role as the ex-husband of Adele and father of Henry

The problem that the performances cannot overcome, however, is that Labor Day has only one way to go. We know that from the beginning, so most of the nearly two-hour runtime is simply a matter of seeing it through to its inevitably sentimental conclusion. It’s basically Nicholas Sparks’ Stockholm Syndrome with a better cast.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • BWeaves

    Oh, Gotopus, I remember watching Three Days of the Condor. I was 16, and my family went on our first cruise. There wasn't a lot of onboard entertainment back in the 1970's on cruises. Mom and I went to the onboard movie and it was Three Days of the Condor. Neither one of us knew what it was about or I think we would not have gone, and certainly not together. I never understood the sex scene. It made no sense to me the and it still doesn't make any sense to me now. It seemed like every Robert Redford movie had to have a gratuitous sex scene in it, whether the plot called for it or not.

  • Uriah_Creep

    Grout work is important, don't be dismissing the grout work.

  • Ben

    From reading the plot description, it sounds like a really cool intersting plot about Stockholm syndrome, wasted on a shitty movie.

  • e jerry powell

    Now, see, I actually lived part of this movie back in 2000. Not the meet cute part, but the escaped murderer part. Gary Dean Gray, who had escaped prison in Tennessee. I was living in Houston at the time, working for an internet banking solutions company. This guy was a gay redneck (yes, there's more than Honey Boo-Boo's uncle) who'd beaten a guy to death, but without premeditation, so he was serving a quarter for second degree murder. I don't know exactly how he'd found his way to Texas, but he shacked up with my neighbor across the street and was a total Mr.-Fix-It for the neighborhood.

    I'm not sure what flipped his switch, but after a few months, he stole my neighbor's 4Runner in the middle of the night and hit the road. Totally went all America's Most Wanted -- and I mean that literally; mug shots with "Captured" at the bottom.

    That year, I learned that I was a pretty good judge of character, whereas more than a few of my friends and neighbors at the time weren't.

    Of course, Brolin is way prettier...

    And talk about ironic, comparing this to a Diane Lane movie.

    As far as the plausibility of Three Days of the Condor, maybe some of the specifics in that particular narrative are problematic, but having spent a fair amount of time around bondage fetishists and/or people who've taken Power, Surrender and Intimacy workshops, it's not completely inconceivable that even a self-actualized woman (or, in the interest of equal time, an alpha male) might find being bound in that way somewhat arousing, but not so much in a Nick Sparks setting.

    Still, I'm not going out of my way to see this film.

  • dilwazr


  • ViciousTrollop

    God, I hope I get kidnapped by a hot guy soon. I'm so bored.

  • Guest

    God, I hope I get kidnapped by a hot girl soon. I'm so bored.

  • L.O.V.E.

    A handsome man escapes prison and kidnaps a kid?

    Only one ending to that story, and its already been told.


  • I thought of this film as soon a I read the article's headline too. All I really remember from this movie is
    1) the kid is a Jehovah's witness or some other soulless organizational spawn
    2) Costner makes the poor bastard eat mustard sandwiches
    3) the kid spends the majority of the film in just a mask and his underwear (little known fact, this movie is a prequel to Eyes Wide Shut) and
    4) Clint Eastwood uses his magical, never-ending scowl to kill Elliot Ness, "Scanners"-style.
    Not 100% sure about number 4.

  • rio

    Comment twin! God, that movie crushed me!!! YOU CANT POST THE END!!!! That's just cruel.

  • L.O.V.E.

    Woa, Woa, Woa. Hold on a Sec! Best kidnapper ever?

    I disagree, good sir.


  • So wait... he kidnaps her, threatens her kid and then... fixes up her house and does some baking? No wonder he ended up getting caught for murder. He sucks at being a criminal.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    There's nothing wrong with knowing where a story's going if the going itself is pleasurable or interesting. But this just sounds fucking cringeworthy.

    (Auto correct changes "cringeworthy" to "noteworthy" or "Goldsworthy"? I don't think so.)

    Note to self: never watch Three Days of the Condor, Redford be damned.

  • rio

    I don't know why this movie gives me a strong early nineties vibe, maybe it's the "A perfect world" meets "The Bridges of Madison County" aspect of it. This doesn't mean it doesn't look so freaking boring.
    Isn't so hard to watch old movies once you manage to leave behind the goggles of misogyny and patriarchy? So many fucking problems! I can't fucking enjoy "Sixteen Candles" anymore, damn it!!!!!

  • I had an appendectomy in 1990, and I call bullshit on the whole thing because I do not believe that he could have jumped out of the window and escaped. I do not believe it for a second.

  • I will join you in the calling of bullshit. I bruised some ribs once and it was all I could do just to get up off the couch to use the bathroom.

  • grr arrgh

    I haven't seen the movie, but from that description, it's way different from what the trailers show. I thought they were insinuating that Adele and Frank were high school sweethearts and he's come to her for help 20 years later. Was it just me getting that?

  • Anne At Large

    No, I got something of that vibe as well. Like how could they so casually fall into that intimacy unless they had some history? I was wondering if he was the kid's long-lost dad or something from the trailer.

  • grr arrgh

    Thank you! I hadn't read anything about this movie so I didn't have any context for the story.

  • Anne At Large

    Me neither, I was thinking this was setting the casting bar high for future Nicholas Sparks movies.

  • grr arrgh

    I knew it wasn't a Sparks-based thing, but the only thing keeping it from looking spot on is that it's not set in North Carolina.

  • Guest

    Falling asleep really seems the only way to come up with that plot or the sound off. Granted that guy didn't need to be such a jerk about it but every spot I've seen has been pretty straightforward

  • lonolove

    Yes. Yes, it was. I think you fell asleep.

  • grr arrgh

    I fell asleep during a 60 second tv spot trailer and misunderstood it? Not following with your logic here.

  • Andrew J

    Every spot I've seen has been pretty straightforward. No idea where you got the college sweetheart thing

  • grr arrgh



    I'm fairly sure it was one of these two, most likely the first one. There are shots of a blond teenaged girl and a dark haired teenaged boy who is not her son. That plus Winslet talking about starting over, I figured it was something about rekindling a romance of theirs. Also, I hadn't read anything about the plot beforehand. It wasn't like I KNEW the plot and then thought the spots were adding more context/story.

  • Andrew J

    Okay I buy that. That second one was totally "let's hide the plot as much as we can to try and get housewives to think this is the notebook"

  • e jerry powell

    Insidious, no?

  • Jim Johnson

    Damn, I was hoping this movie would turn out to be better than the trailer made it seem. Sounds like no. Why is Reitman doing this? I just re-watched Up in the Air the other day and that movie is fantastic, as is every other Reitman film I've seen (still haven't gotten around to Young Adult). This material seems so below him.

  • Paula Kay

    Oh wait...he did Young Adult. I really hated that movie! Gonna pass on this one

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    Pool money. Or Porsche money. Or just mortgage payment money.

  • e jerry powell

    Or girlfriend-on-the-side money. Or rehab money. Who knows?

    These things do happen...

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