Review: Labor Day

Labor Day

Labor Day tells the story of a woman who falls madly in love with an escaped prison convict over the course of a Labor Day weekend. At first glance, a movie stacked sky high with ridiculous platitudes and even a ridiculous premise to match. However, Labor Day tends to have a little more to say than early footage would suggest. This film could easily be written off for the general schlock of grocery store romance novels, but in the end it rises above.

Opening in 1987 we meet Adele Wheeler (Kate Winslet) and her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith). The two live a rather sheltered lifestyle. We are to assume that Adele is an emotional wreck from her divorce from Henry’s father (Clarke Gregg). She is a mess and refuses to leave the house more than once a month. Henry narrates this entire story and develops a close and helpful relationship with his mother. Never being able to fulfill the lost that she suffered, Henry also feels levels of inadequacy.

When Adele and Henry go to a local department store to pick up their monthly supplies is when things get interesting. During their shopping, Henry walks off to look at the comics (just an excuse to look at the sexy ladies on the magazine covers). He encounters Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin). Frank makes it very clear that he needs their help, and let’s Adele know she has little choice in the matter. He is of course the escaped convict on the run from the local police. He makes Adele and Henry take him back to their place so he can rest from his injuries and decide his next move.

At this point in the movie you get the feeling that this is nothing but a series of stockholm syndrome moments brought on by Frank’s ability to fix the car, work on the broken stairs, and of course make a peach pie from scratch. Teaching both Adele and Henry these skills makes Frank seem like a standup guy, which he is. Throughout the movie we get flashes of how Frank became a prisoner and you as the audience are left to decide whether or not it was deserved. As Frank continues to cook and clean for Adele and Henry we go further down the rabbit’s hole to meet the world’s greatest guy! I have to be honest, I thought this was incredibly contrived and basic. Exactly what I was shown in the trailer and none of this was a surprise; good or bad.

What brought the movie from a mediocre viewing to something of real meaning was what happens next. The reveal (and for the sake of not ruining the movie I won't say what happens) of why Adele is really so torn down as a person is fantastically handled. Showing the full range of emotions surrounding the events are genuine and gripping. These moments elevated the movie above the nonsensical level of a story with a shirtless Fabio character on the cover. Kate Winslet delivers a great performance even with the limited material she is given. Brolin also makes a valiant effort. His brooding Frank Chambers was fairly one dimensional, but Brolin made it work. Gattlin Griffith does a wonderful job as well with what he has. The main hinderous to the movie is its thin character development. Had the three main characters been flushed out more this could have carried the movie a tad further. While not a full experience, Labor Day gives us hope that not all films in January are complete garbage.

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Review: The Words

The Words can be summed up in one made up word: book-ception. This refers to Christopher Nolan’s dream laden action movie, Inception, where people worked in a dream world inside a dream world inside a dream world. It was a very heady and interesting to watch. The Words is no Inception, but its not trying to be. Writer/Director Brian Klugman presents what I like to refer to as a perfect concept movie. To me concept movies are ones that focus more on the idea of a slick or interesting hook than the details. Here, Klugman is hellbent on getting you focused on how intriguing it is to have three layered stories. Will that be enough, or do we need to go deeper?

I will be honest, I went in thinking The Words would be this year’s The Notebook, a mostly vapid romance-a-thon with slight underpinnings of tolerable acting. I can truthfully say, that I was wrong. The movie is better than that, but not much better. The multi-layered idea works to a degree, and I found myself looking forward to the back and forth moments from one universe to another. Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) is the creator of this book-ception, as he is the writer of a book conveniently called The Words. When we start on this adventure we find ourselves listening to Hammond recite the first two chapters of his book to an adoring crowd. That book focuses on a couple, Rory and Dora Jansen (Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana, respectively) as they go through their mundane lives as Rory struggles to become a published author. When Rory finds an unpublished book and passes the work off as his own the story finally gets going. The moments before really only kept my interest because I was waiting for the dramatic moment of plagiarism. When Rory is confronted by an old man (Jeremy Irons) about his theft this becomes the most compelling portion of the movie. When Irons is on screen no one else matters. I found myself wanting the old man to be the only character in the movie delivering multiple soliloquies while sitting on a park bench.

The other layer that we haven’t talked about is the one that lives within the stolen book. That story focuses on a young man (Ben Barnes) who has a textbook love affair with Celia (Nora Arnezeder), a french woman who he met during WW2. Their lives are polar opposite of Rory and Dora’s. They suffer unbelievable turmoil as their marriage goes on, and this apparently makes for a fantastic read to everyone in the higher universes. When Clay Hammond wrote his story it was clear that in order for Rory to truly connect with the stolen story it had to be outside of him. This is the most obvious reason for the stark character differences in an slew of otherwise straightforward character creations by Clay. When we are at the top level of the book-ception with Clay, we see him cavorting with Daniella (Olivia Wilde). She is eager to hear just how Clay’s story ends and his real motivation behind it. There are a lot of casual glances and quiet moments between the two, but it never seems particularly genuine. Of the three universes the top level was the least interesting. You get a lot of questions, but not a lot of answers. Perhaps this was Klugman’s way of building suspense, but I found that it just seemed lazy. Throw it to the audience to deduce without having to make the effort...thanks. At the end of the day, The Words isn’t a horrible movie, but rather a concept...a great one actually. The idea of wrapping multiple stories together like this is intriguing. I think with a lot more care in developing each universe instead of just connecting them would have gone a long way. The acting and screenplay were serviceable to get us through the 96 minutes. As I mentioned previously, Jeremy Irons steals the show. Between his absolute master ability to emote, he delivers lines as if he is in a far better movie that he was; a real standout. This is a movie that works better in a intimate setting, catch it on cable television or as a rental.

[easyreview title= "Review of The Words" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="2.5" overall= false]

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