Let's watch Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin make Sex Pie in Labor Day!
Jason Reitman’s Labor Day isn’t nearly as bad as most of the critics make it sound—most critics wouldn’t know a good romance if it kidnapped them, nursed them out of their depression, and made them a sex pie. The main problem is that it’s not a romance; it’s based on a coming-of-age novel, and so agoraphobimom’s Awakening with the escaped convicted murderer is seen through the thickly fringed eyes of her pre-teen son instead of her own. That framing is one key issue: it takes us away from the sex pie and into a (mercifully fairly brief) detour where Pre-Teen Son meets a Fucked Up Child of Divorce who spreads malevolence like butter on bread—as well as the suspense of whether Fucked Up Child of Divorce will properly poison the boy against his mom and the nice escaped convicted murderer, right when they are on the verge of making a fambly!
Kate Winslet does a wonderful job, as always, this time playing a mom who’s so depressed even her hair wilts with sadness—but despite Winslet’s best attempts, she’s still a cipher. Her entire character is “sad mom but good mom but mom fucked up with sadness whose son has to care for her like an alcoholic’s child.” Josh Brolin is as sexy a beast as ever, even with his greasy mane. His character is “awesome dude who is awesome.” You can see why after hiding him from the authorities for all of five days, Winslet is ready to make a Series of Unfortunate Choices in order to be with him forever. He mops the floor! He fixes shit! He cooks dinner and feeds her as she’s all tied up! He is nice to children in wheelchairs instead of punching them in the face! He makes sex pie, and teaches her about both cutting in the Crisco and flouring the rolling pin!
But Brolin’s casting is a problem too. You can understand falling in love with an escaped convicted murderer and being willing to leave everything behind after five days of sex pie and chili, but the fact that Hunky Murderer is played by Brolin—who’s reportedly an abusive piece of shit IRL—makes it difficult to stop thinking about HOW TERRIBLE A CHOICE IT IS TO ACT ON IT. Guuuurl, you got a kid to watch out for! Even if he does teach him how to bat! I don’t know, I feel like they could wait a while, get to know each other a little better, before trying to cross an international border with an escaped convicted murderer. You know?
Romance novels are the billion dollar dirty secret a goodly chunk of us have hidden behind the Flannery O’Connor and Gore Vidals, and I for one am tired of hiding. (Julie Garwood and Judith McNaught are particular faves, if you need a rec.) Labor Day by Joyce Maynard purports not to be one (I haven’t read it), but the damaged hero who comes in and literally feeds and bathes and nurses the heroine is a key structural component of the romance novel formula. Labor Day could have used more of it; more sexxxy onscreen instead of just coos and fumbles as heard by our preteen son “coming of age” on the other side of the wall.
I repeat: Labor Day is not a terrible movie, but it could have used more romance and fewer long scenes of our newly formed couple being REALLY FUCKING BAD at getting away from the heat. Also, the ending has really no dramatic punch. And Brolin—and we see everything you’re in despite that pesky “abusive piece of shit” thing—maybe you shouldn’t play parts where you accidentally beat your wife to death, by accident. Just saying.