REVIEW: ‘Labor Day’ Is Like A Nicholas Sparks Movie, But Good. …Almost.

Prison Super Dad Saves The Day

“Mom, stop crying.”

Those were the first words I heard when the credits rolled on Jason Reitman’s Labor Day, coming from a 10 or 11-year-old boy sitting behind me with his mom. They seemed especially relevant to include here, as Labor Day is the ultimate “mom, stop crying” movie.

With Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Young Adult, and especially Up in the Air, his best film to date, Jason Reitman has established himself as a filmmaker people pay attention to come awards season. Which is why it was odd to see his latest, starring perennial awards candidates Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet, dumped into late January, on the weekend after I,Frankenstein, with no marketing campaign to speak of. The folks at Paramount clearly didn’t much like this movie. But that doesn’t mean you won’t! Come to think of it, are you a mom?

Labor Day was adapted from a novel by Joyce Maynard, but everything about it fits the idea that Jason Reitman was trying to make a Nicholas Sparks movie, to sort of play around with the form, and understand its appeal – a hot dude, a steamy romance, gorgeous sun-drenched scenery, a tragic event, and a last shot at love and redemption for two once-broken hotties. No one ever saves a nest of sea turtles from a raccoon, but for a big chunk of this movie, I thought Reitman was actually going to do the impossible, and make a good Nick Sparks movie, simply through chemistry and tension-building alone. Think Van Gogh painting a Thomas Kinkade landscape.

Labor Day is narrated by Tobey Maguire, king of the gee whiz voiceover, the grown-up version of Labor Day‘s protagonist, a mop-headed kid named Hank on the cusp of adolescence, living with his depressed, agoraphobic mom (Kate Winslet) in a country cottage in small-town New England. Whereas the Nicholas Sparks version of this story would surely have made Winslet’s ex a monstrous, wife-abandoning abuser who kicks puppies and hates the USA, in Labor Day, he’s Clark Gregg, a regular guy who loves his son, but who just didn’t have it in him to live with a depressed lady. As Tobey’s voiceover helpfully tells us, “I think my mom was more upset about losing love than about losing my father.”