Rewind, Review, and Re-Rate: ‘Labor Day’: A Rural-American Harlequin Romance

August 30, 2020 Updated: August 30, 2020

PG-13 | | Drama, Romance, Thriller | 31 January 2014 (USA)

The Romance Writers of America say the main plot of a romance novel must revolve around two people as they develop love for each other and work to build a relationship. Sounds incredibly simplistic, right? But you know what? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Romance novels generate yearly sales of over a billion dollars!

I’ll now rewind, review, and re-rate 2014’s “Labor Day” (in case you were looking for a movie to watch on Labor Day)—a movie that’s about as romance novel-y as you can get.

Picture, If You Will …

A handsome devil. Dangerous. He’s runnin’ from the law. Picture also, if you will, a lovelorn, lonely lady. A single mom, she is.

Woman in white on hammock in "Labor Day"
Kate Winslet in “Labor Day.” (Paramount Pictures)

This man! Do you know what this man can do? Well, he can change a tire. He can clean gutters. He can teach her nonathletic early-teen son to throw a baseball.

man on ladder, woman with cup of coffee in "Labor Day"
Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet in “Labor Day.” (Paramount Pictures)

He’s got a manly demeanor, yeoman limbs, a full head of sleek hair, and a dashing ‘stache (well, prison-inmate goatee, but, really, why split [facial] hairs?).

man with goatee and white t-shirt in "Labor Day"
Josh Brolin as an escaped ex-con in “Labor Day.” (Paramount Pictures)

What else? He fixes her squeaky floorboard and oils her door. And makes tasty, tasty chili. He can be taught to cha-cha in the living room and tango in the kitchen. He moves well.

man and woman dance in "Labor Day"
Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet cha-cha in “Labor Day.” (Paramount Pictures)

He can also stand behind the woman like Patrick Swayze behind Demi Moore in “Ghost,” with his manly lantern jaw on her shoulder, and mush her hands around in a bowl of sugary peaches, with intent (and great skill) to produce a perfect peach pie. Inhale, if you will … the peachy aroma.

man and woman and peach pie in "Labor Day"
Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet bake a peach pie in “Labor Day.” (Dale Robinette/Paramount Pictures)

Take a Wild Guess

Do you think there’s a remote chance this woman will maybe fall in love with this man? Like, to the point that her hands shake constantly? What are the odds?

man, woman, and boy at Walmart in "Labor Day"
Kate Winslet, Gattlin Griffith, and Josh Brolin in “Labor Day.” (Dale Robinette/Paramount Pictures)

Do you think it matters one whit to her that he’s a jail-break ex-con? An ex-con who, with sly menacing charm, coerces her and her son to take him home from the Walmart janitor closet he suddenly pops out of? Or that she’s therefore harboring a fugitive?

Do you think it’s interesting that the baseball cap he’s wearing at Walmart is different than the one he’s wearing in the car?

man, boy, and woman in car in "Labor Day"
(L–R) Gattlin Griffith, Josh Brolin, and Kate Winslet in “Labor Day.” (Dale Robinette/Paramount Pictures)

Close Calls

There’s some business with friends stopping by, cops stopping by, and other mild nail-biters. There are flashbacks as to how this man got where he got.

How long will he stay? Will he board a train when his stitches heal (he’s wounded, of course) and disappear forever?

woman stitches a man's wounds in "Labor Day"
Kate Winslet stitches up Josh Brolin in “Labor Day.” (Dale Robinette/Paramount Pictures)

A Romance Novel …

And so, furthermore, according to the Romance Writers of America, a romance novel … must have an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”

Does “Labor Day” meet this requirement? Well, I can’t possibly tell you that. That would be a big Labor Day spoiler of fun.

Let’s just say this movie is an example of why, when the world self-destructs, all that will be left is cockroaches and romance novels. And Keith Richards. OK, never mind that last one.

Don’t let the fact that “Labor Day” is a brazen cinematic-Harlequin-Romance stop you. Josh Brolin is a-hunk-a-hunk-a-burnin’-love, and Kate Winslet is a sweet bird with a broken wing.

man and woman sit on couch in "Labor Day"
Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet in “Labor Day.” (Dale Robinette/Paramount Pictures)

The cinematography is cozy; the shots are rural-America nostalgic. The music is sometimes slightly overbearing.

Romance has been around since the dawn of human beings. What’s not to like? Go like it. Go like it on Facebook.

But then, “like” is too weak a word when describing what this movie will do for the type of woman (and, you know, also some men) who secretly harbor a penchant for fatalistic romance. Woody Allen summed it up best in “Annie Hall“: They will lurve it. They will loave it. They will luff it.

And if you’re not too particular about movies needing to be art and all that, and if you want to curry favor with your girlfriend—you could do worse. If you, the man, are preferring grittier fare, but she’s not having it, suggest a double feature: “Labor Day” followed by “No Country for Old Men” (also starring Josh Brolin) for the full yin-yang, Josh Brolin experience.

Everyone wins.

man and woman at kitchen counter in "Labor Day"
Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin in “Labor Day.” (Dale Robinette/Paramount Pictures)

‘Labor Day’
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Tobey Maquire, J.K. Simmons, James Van Der Beek, Clark Gregg, Lucas Hedges
Run Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Rated PG-13
Release Date: Jan. 31, 2014
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch