Memory lane not always fun in ‘Labor Day’ |

Memory lane not always fun in ‘Labor Day’

Andy Bockelman

Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin) shows Adele and Henry Wheeler (Kate Winslet, Gattlin Griffith) how to make a peach pie in "Labor Day." The movie is about a boy and his withdrawn mother in 1987 who take in an escaped convict.

As fun as they may be, three-day weekends usually aren't life-changing events for most people. Then again, the story of "Labor Day" involves far more than just sleeping late and taking in the annual neighborhood block party.

The days of summer 1987 are fading out for 13-year-old Henry Wheeler (Gattlin Griffith), but he hasn't had much of a childhood lately anyway. His mother, Adele (Kate Winslet), has been mired in depression for years, and the departure of his father (Clark Gregg) has only made her more reclusive and dependent on Henry.

On one of the rare occasions when she's willing to go out shopping, what starts out as an already tense day becomes increasingly stressful for the mother and son when they are asked for help by an injured stranger named Frank (Josh Brolin), who's firm about keeping a low profile. Without much choice, they take him back to their house, where it doesn't take long for them to figure out their guest is an escaped convict who's the subject of a police manhunt.

Although he's reported as dangerous, Frank poses no apparent threat to Adele and Henry, and though they get off to a rocky start, the wanted man starts to bond with both the boy and his mother. But, the closer Frank gets to Adele, the more confused Henry feels about what's happening in front of him.

Whether in the HBO miniseries "Mildred Pierce" or suburban soaps such as "Revolutionary Road" and "Little Children," Winslet is always incredible at portraying women struggling with love and parenthood at the same time. In this case, the emotionally damaged Adele is someone who just needs a little coaxing out of the rut of despondence she's fallen into, one which has damaged her relationship with her son.

Brolin can be a tough guy, but he also can counteract his forcefulness with the tender, thoughtful acts of a man who's had a lot of time to dwell on his past mistakes. And, when time in the clink translates to a skill for baking pastries like nobody's business, who can complain?

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With the story shown from Griffith's perspective, there's a sometimes unbearable sadness for those who recall always feeling out of place during their adolescence, with Henry having few friends. The only girl (Brighid Fleming) who will talk to him does all she can to convince him the adults in his life are out to get him.

Is it any wonder this sensitive kid grows up to be Tobey Maguire?

Maguire's later-in-life narration adds a touch of heavy-handedness to what's already a very melodramatic account. This makes quite a shift for director Jason Reitman, at least in tone, as he adapts Joyce Maynard's coming-of-age novel for the screen.

This isn't to say you can't see traces of Reitman's usual style, especially since he's brought out the best and worst of characters in "Thank You for Smoking," "Up in the Air" and "Young Adult."

Reitman stumbles somewhat with his first movie that contains virtually no comic relief, letting some scenes drag out to the point where they lose some of their poignancy.

Although he strains himself in keeping the framework together, one strength Reitman has had in all of his features — let's not forget "Juno" — is a capability for letting his actors appear entirely natural, providing they're up for the challenge.

And, yes, Winslet, Brolin and Griffith clearly are capable.

The romantic angle of "Labor Day" doesn't always work, but that's almost the point. Love, whether between two adults or a parent and child, is never perfect, and sometimes, you just have to take what you can get, as Henry does.

And, if a jailbird offers to teach you how to throw a curveball when your real dad is ignoring you, well, beggars can't be choosers.

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or

If you go…

“Labor Day,” rated PG-13

Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars

Running time: 111 minutes

Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith and Tobey Maguire.

Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas and Craig’s West Theatre.