First degree felony isn’t the best way to find your romantic match but it seems to work for heartstrung characters played by Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin in "Labor Day." He’s a kidnapper, she’s a hostage, it’s a match!
But aren’t we all just prisoners of love? Not literally because that would be illegal if it happened against our wills, and just plain dumb if we went along with it. Winslet’s Adele Wheeler goes with it and yes, it’s dumb, in preposterous ways making writer-director Jason Reitman’s emotional miscalculations strangely bearable.
"Labor Day" is a chest-swelling melodrama that will cause ice cream sales to soar when it debuts on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Adapting Joyce Maynard’s novel of the same name, Reitman delivers a two-tissue examination of what happens when the Stockholm syndrome goes right.
Reitman, typically a sharp satirist ( "Juno," "Thank You For Smoking"), works here without irony, adding a shade of Christian Grey to the process of tying up a hostage, and giving the process of baking a peach pie the extended, flesh-entwined eroticism of "Blue is the Warmest Color." Maybe he is trying to be ironic.
Either way, Adele could use someone like Frank Chambers in her chronically depressed condition, which Winslet conveys with dazed gazes and perpetual bed-head. Her husband (Clark Gregg) couldn’t take it anymore and left. Their pre-teen son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) enables Adele’s isolation from the world, except for occasional shopping trips.
During one stop for corduroys, Adele and Henry are approached by a bleeding stranger (Brolin) politely requesting a ride. He’s escaped murderer Frank Chambers, swearing what he did wasn’t that bad. Frank’s dashing beard, sultry voice and courtliness are convincing, so Adele says hop in. Later she says hop on, and that sound you hear is every woman in the theater clutching their bosoms in swoon.
Who can blame them? Within hours of meeting, Frank mops Adele’s floors, changes her oil, does various home repairs and teaches Henry how to throw a baseball. Not to mention that peach pie recipe he shares, fondling fruit and dough like pottery clay in "Ghost." Only then do they have sex. Frank isn’t a desperate criminal, he’s a catch.
For those who disagree, the deeper Adele and Frank fall in love, the more eye-rolling opportunities "Labor Day" offers. Reitman reveals what’s eating Adele and how innocent Frank isn’t through nearly wordless flashbacks, at the slow drip pacing of water torture. It’s all bathetic enough for "Labor Day" to be subtitled "The Prisons of Madison County."
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, brief violence and sexuality.