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Susan Granger's review of 'Labor Day'

Published 11:31 am, Saturday, February 15, 2014
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Screened for the press in November, Jason Reitman's romantic melodrama sinks in a plot quagmire, proving that even the most seductively delicious peach pie goes stale when it sits on the shelf for several months.

Narrated by now-grown Henry Wheeler (Tobey Maguire), it recalls what happened over Labor Day weekend in New Hampshire in 1987, when precocious, then-13-year-old Henry (Gattlin Griffith) and his depressed, agoraphobic, divorced mother, Adele (Kate Winslet), encounter Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin) on a back-to-school shopping trip. He asks them for a ride and a place to clean up since he's got blood on his shirt -- and there's more than an implied threat when he adds: "Frankly, this needs to happen."

So Adele takes him home and tends to the wound on his side. Frank says he jumped out of a window, but she soon learns that he's actually just escaped from prison, where he was serving a 20-year sentence for murder, and there's a manhunt to find him.

Then, what was originally a hostage situation inexplicably -- and improbably -- turns erotic as, during a three-day idyll, Adele seriously considers leaving with him for Canada, where they can make a fresh start in life together.

Based on a pulpy 2009 novel by Joyce Maynard, it's most memorable for Brolin's peach pie crust-making sequence. As he and Winslet knead dough, it evokes memories of Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore's far-better "Ghost."

Food stylist Susan Spungen ("Julie & Julia," "Eat, Pray, Love") was charged with making the bakery goods camera-ready and the actors look convincing. But, according to interviews, Brolin was so determined to acquire the necessary skill, that he created one juicy, homemade pastry after another, dutifully following the recipe in Maynard's book.

Screenwriter/director Reitman tackles this maudlin fantasy with gusto, filling it with flashbacks and telltale details -- in addition to the sugared peaches -- leading to a safe, if contrived, compromised conclusion.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Labor Day" is a soggy, often silly 6, a problematic choice for Valentine's Day.