Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin’s Labor Day Thriller Romance Is “Hard to Embrace,” Not Believable

Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin in "Labor Day"
Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin's thriller romance Labor Day is "hard to embrace," writes Us Weekly's film critic Mara Reinstein Paramount Pictures

In theaters Friday, January 31

2 stars (out of 4 stars)

And you thought The Hobbit was a fantasy. Kate Winslet's latest tearjerker takes suspension of disbelief to absurd new levels.

It's Labor Day weekend in 1987 in New Hampshire, where lonely divorced mom Adele (Winslet) walks around dead-eyed and despondent. During a shopping trip with her son, escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin), bleeding from his ear, pulls a gun and demands she harbor him. The ominous tone continues as they arrive home and he ties her to a chair. When police officers knock on her door the next morning searching for their fugitive, Frank stands a few feet away, still pointing that weapon.

Then, in an instant, the simmering tension disappears: Frank, you see, was trapped in a physical prison just like Adele was trapped in an emotional one. Deep down, he's a criminal with the disposition of a saint and a heart of gold. He cheerfully replaces the filter on her furnace and cooks in the kitchen and cleans her floors and plays baseball in the backyard with a severely disabled child neighbor in a wheelchair. He also has perfectly tousled hair, even after spending a significant amount of time behind bars. Yup, the rugged, empathetic Frank is just the man to ignite Adele's sexual awakening.

The change in tone from thriller to Nicholas Sparks-esque romance is startling to process and impossible to embrace. (Indeed, audiences may be surprised to learn that Jason Reitman, who directed Juno and Up in the Air with a healthy dose of irony, is behind the camera here). A slow?mo sequence in which Frank teaches Adele how to cobble peach pie — this includes loving close?ups on the couple kneading the crust — aims to do for baking what pottery did for Ghost. But the hammy scene plays like a throwaway scene from some Saturday night Lifetime movie. One that stars Haylie Duff and Cameron Mathison

The drama has only itself to blame: By establishing such an air of danger around Frank (and revealing early on that he's guilty of his crime), there's zero chance audiences will buy into the couple's earnest rush into romance. And that's a heady declaration, given that Winslet is the master at portraying listless suburban housewives.

Adele is a broken-down woman, alright. But the film breaks down right along with her.

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