FS, Contributing Writer
Jason Reitman, who up until now has specialized in comedies with a dark streak (“Thank You for Smoking,” “Juno,” “Up in the Air,” “Young Adult”), tries his hand at pure melodrama with “Labor Day” (wide release) and earns some laughs anyway — unfortunately, unintentional ones.
Based on a novel by Joyce Maynard set in 1987, the picture is about an agoraphobic divorcee (Kate Winslet) who’s taken prisoner, along with her adolescent son, by an escaped convict (Josh Brolin). But despite this premise, it’s not a suspense thriller but a romance, and the man turns out to be not a menacing thug but an ultra-sensitive Mr. Fix-it.
Over the course of the holiday weekend he repairs not just the house’s gutters, doors and water heater but the woman’s broken heart along with her car. And he has time to instruct the boy in the rudiments of baseball in the back yard.
He also proves a marvelous cook. In the film’s most absurd scene, he teaches his captives how to make a peach pie from scratch, with the massaging of the squishy fruit, the kneading of the dough and the bubbling of the crust in the oven used as metaphors for human contact.
It’s no wonder that after only three days mother and son are ready to run off to Canada with this paragon of manhood.
Perhaps on the printed page the ludicrousness of “Labor Day” can be muted.
On the screen, however, it’s italicized, particularly because the pacing is funereal and the cinematography gives everything a lustrous glow.
One hopes that Reitman will return to his comic roots after this unhappy detour into sentimental bilge.
“That Awkward Moment”
First-time writer-director Tom Gormican apparently wants to say something insightful about the modern dating scene in “That Awkward Moment” (wide release). Unfortunately, he also desires to match, if not surpass, the raunchiness of movies like “The Hangover.” The result is pretty deadly, even though the movie’s premise is borrowed from Shakespeare.
Specifically, it’s a bungled updating of “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” in which three 20-something New Yorkers (Zac Efron, Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan) take an oath to avoid getting into a serious relationship. Of course, each does so anyway, though he keeps it a secret from the others.
That wouldn’t be so bad if the three weren’t such obnoxious jerks. Efron’s character is a callow, preening stud and Teller’s a motor-mouthed bozo with a penchant for potty jokes. By contrast, the doctor played by Jordan is a more mature fellow, but also a tediously self-pitying wallflower.
Liberally larded with sleazy gags that fall flat because of inept direction, Gormican’s picture — whose title refers to the point in a relationship when the guy thinks it’s getting too serious and breaks things off — is less awkward than awful.
“The Invisible Woman”
Not long ago Ralph Fiennes was Magwitch in Mike Newell’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations.” Now he takes on directing duties for the second time (following his updating of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus”) with “The Invisible Woman” (Angelika), a well-appointed period piece in which he plays Charles Dickens himself.
The picture recounts the novelist’s long affair with a much younger woman, a relationship that led to the end of his marriage and the darkening of his reputation, despite his elaborate efforts to conceal it.
The tale is told from the perspective of Dickens’ mistress, well played by Felicity Jones, as she looks back on their time together years after his death and her marriage to a school headmaster.
Fiennes brings his usual intelligence to bear not only in his direction, but also his performance, which manages to be both convincing and generous to his fellow actors.
“The Invisible Woman” will probably disappear fairly quickly, but it’s worth catching before it does.
The Oscars are due to be announced in a month or so, so there’s still plenty of time to see some of the major contenders before the ceremony. If you’ve not already done so, you should check out “12 Years a Slave,” “American Hustle,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Philomena” and “Her.” And don’t overlook Alexander Payne’s latest, “Nebraska,” and the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” even though the latter was largely snubbed by the Academy.