Josh Brolin Sure Loves Making Pies (A Little Too Much) In 'Labor Day'
If there's one thing you can count on in Jason Reitman's Labor Day, a romantic exploration of love versus the Stockholm Syndrome, is that there will be plenty of peach pie.
The melodramatic film is a departure from Reitman's other highly acclaimed works from the dark, idiosyncratic comedies of Up in the Air to Juno, and brings to the forefront a love story between an unlikely pair (like the stuff out of bosom-heaving Harlequin romance novels).
Adapted from Joyce Maynard's 2009 novel with a screenplay written by Reitman, the story follows Adele (Kate Winslet), a divorced and depressed mother of a 13-year-old awkwardly nerdy son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith), during a hot and sticky Labor Day weekend in September 1987. A 30-year-old Henry narrates this flashback story through the king of period-piece voice-overs, Tobey Maguire (remember his squeaky voice in The Great Gatsby?).
Adele's a shut-in and rarely leaves the house, so much so that the quiet and introspective Henry and her have to stock up on frozen food and canned goods at the local PriceMart store like they're preparing for the apocalypse.
Their lives both change when they run into ex-convict Frank (Josh Brolin) at the store, who is bleeding from his stomach and in so many gestures or so, threatens Adele (as calmly as possible) to drive him back to her house.
Reitman is able to build suspense in the opening moments of this PriceMart interaction. He makes us question if we would make the same choices Adele makes in taking this ex-convict (who just so happens to be burly and handsome) home. There are details that add depth to this crumbling world Adele lives in, from the peeling paint of her weathered home to how her hands shake to the point where she can't even put on lipstick without it being noticeable. Winslet settles into her emotionally fragile role with precision.
However, where things begin to falter in the plot is the budding romance between Adele and Frank that sparks when he tenderly ties her up as a hostage, cooks up a batch of chili and spoon-feeds her. It's like we're watching an S&M bondage film unfold (but hey, this isn't the most traditional type of relationship to begin with.) Frank, who has been in jail for 20 years for murder, seems like the perfect man, who cleans the rain gutters for the family, cooks meals, and even teaches Henry how to play baseball like a father figure. We almost root for him to save this broken family.
And then there is that ridiculously long peach-pie-making scene that is supposed to be as sexy as the pottery-wheel scene Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze partake in 1990 romance Ghost. Frank teaches Adele his sensual method of making peach pie; the two knead dough together, fingers entangled, and Adele's body quivers at his every touch. Unfortunately, what was supposed be a symbolic scene becomes laughable. Who knew Brolin was so into making pies?
Turns out Brolin actually took a pie-making workshop with Maynard before his big scene and made so many pies he became a pro at it. "He would make pies for everybody," Reitman told the Wrap. “At first it was really charming - you’d think, 'Oh my gosh, Josh made me a pie.' And by the end of the shoot it was, ‘Oh f—, here comes Josh with another pie. Everybody run.'"
So, we can see how things got a little unwieldy in this pie scene that was sadly distracting to the point where it was hard to take the rest of the film too seriously.
We can only slightly question if Adele is suffering from some sort of Stockholm Syndrome as it seems she is so desperate for love from her overarching loneliness. There isn't enough depth in their relationship to make it so. However, Reitman does accomplish in making us care for these two characters, but it's not enough to steer us away from feeling like this is a kicked-up Nicholas Sparks movie.
The film is out in theaters today. Here is the trailer: