LABOR DAY – Review by Susan Granger

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Screened for the press in November, Jason Reitman’s romantic melodrama sinks in a plot quagmire, proving that even the most seductively delicious peach pie goes stale when it sits on the shelf for several months. Read on…

Narrated by now-grown Henry Wheeler (Tobey Maguire), it recalls what happened over Labor Day weekend in New Hampshire back in 1987, when precocious, then-13 year-old Henry (Gattlin Griffith) and his depressed, agoraphobic, divorced mother, Adele (Kate Winslet), encounter Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin) on a back-to-school shopping trip. He asks them for a ride and a place to clean up since he’s got blood on his shirt – and there’s more than an implied threat when he adds: “Frankly, this needs to happen.”

So Adele takes him home and tends to the wound on his side. Frank says he jumped out of a window, but she soon learns that he’s actually just escaped from prison, where he was serving a 20-year sentence for murder, and there’s a manhunt to find him. Then, what was originally a hostage situation inexplicably – and improbably – turns into erotic as, during a three-day idyll, Adele seriously considers leaving with him for Canada, where they can make a fresh start in life together.

Based on a pulpy 2009 novel by Joyce Maynard, it’s most memorable for Brolin’s peach pie crust-making sequence. As he and Kate Winslet knead dough, it evokes memories of Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore’s far-better “Ghost.” Food stylist Susan Spungen (“Julie & Julia,” “Eat, Pray, Love”) was charged with making the bakery goods camera-ready and the actors look convincing. But, according to interviews, Josh Brolin was so determined to acquire the necessary confectionary skill, that he created one juicy, homemade pastry after another, dutifully following the recipe in Maynard’s book.

Screenwriter/director Jason Reitman tackles this maudlin fantasy with gusto, filling it with flashbacks and telltale details – in addition to the sugared peaches – leading to a safe, if contrived, compromised conclusion.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Labor Day” is a soggy, often silly 6, a problematic choice for Valentine’s Day.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.