“Labor Day” represents a rare misstep for director Jason Reitman — at least when it comes to critical response. The director, who has received near-unanimous praise for every film he’s made since “Thank You for Smoking” arrived in 2005, failed to impress the critics with his latest film starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin.
The coming-of-age drama, an adaptation of author Joyce Maynard’s novel of the same name, has been declared “Rotten” on critic aggregator Rotten Tomatoes after just 35 percent of 113 reviews were favorable. To make matters worse for the Paramount Pictures release, it appears “That Awkward Moment” — a poorly-reviewed bromantic comedy starring Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller –is going to conquer the weekend box office.
“Labor Day” centers on a teenager (Gattlin Griffith) struggling to be the man of the house in the wake of his parent’s divorce, which has left his mother (Winslet) severely depressed. One long Labor Day weekend changes their lives forever, however, after an escaped convict (Brolin) unexpectedly takes refuge in their home and begins to romance the single mom.
TheWrap‘s Alonso Duralde was among the majority of critics who did not enjoy the film. He doesn’t blame the performances from Brolin or Winslet, so much as the unnecessary narration from the Tobey Maguire, who plays the grown-up version of Gattlin’s character.
“Writer-director Reitman, adapting the novel by Joyce Maynard, gives us a glimpse at the more interesting movie this material might have yielded: The camera tells us almost everything we need to know about the characters’ inner lives, their yearnings and their heartbreak,” Duralde wrote in his review. “Unfortunately, audiences apparently can’t be trusted to pay attention, so Reitman pours on unnecessary narration that rarely adds anything that the movie hasn’t already told us. Rather than choose to show us or tell us, ‘Labor Day’ all too frequently does both, to the film’s detriment.”
Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers wasn’t impressed, either.
“My goodwill drowned while trying to swallow this treacly cocktail of romantic swill,” Travers wrote. “In adapting Maynard’s 2009 novel, Reitman tries valiantly to close the ironic distance he showed in ‘Thank You for Smoking,’ ‘Juno,‘ ‘Up in the Air’ and ‘Young Adult.’ No go. The pie looks delicious, but ‘Labor Day’ feels stale.”
Vulture‘s David Edelstein called the drama “clunky, schematic, and drawn out,” but at least he got a good laugh out of it. Even though that does not seem to be the reaction Reitman or any of his collaborators wanted to induce.
“Jason Reitman’s tremulous romantic drama ‘Labor Day’ is an unintentional howl — a party movie begging for an audience armed with pie crusts, ropes, and a mean streak. It’s so terrible it’s amazing,” Edelstein wrote. “I didn’t enjoy laughing at Winslet, though, who overacts with all her heart, her eyes signaling fright while her lips and bosom quiver with longing.”
New York Times critic Stephen Holden called the movie “an embarrassing comedown” for Reitman, but gave credit where credit is due to Winslet.
“The movie’s principal saving grace is Ms. Winslet’s convincing portrayal of Adele, a despairing woman of low self-esteem just a twitch away from a nervous breakdown,” Holden wrote. “In almost every other respect, this overbaked romantic hokum is preposterous.”
Not everyone was turned off by the sappy romance tale. There are still 39 positive reviews floating around from trusted critics like Richard Roeper, the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Steven Rea and Los Angeles Times critic Betsy Sharkey.
Sharkey advised her readers that “if you can get past the past, which I recommend, what is left is a lovely, intimate film about longing and love.”
“What unfolds over the long, hot holiday weekend is beautifully told and beautifully acted by Winslet, Brolin and Griffith,” Sharkey explains. “Tobey Maguire as narrator and in a cameo as a grown-up Henry adds another nice touch. It is the flashbacks that are a muddle.”