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Cate Blanchett arrives at 2014 Santa Barbara International Film Festival – Outstanding Performer of the Year award ceremony on Feb 1, in Los Angeles. (AP)
‘Day’ tremulous romantic drama Farmiga, Garcia way too cool in ‘Middleton’

LOS ANGELES, Feb 2, (RTRS): “Labor Day” represents a rare misstep for director Jason Reitman — at least when it comes to critical response. The director, who has received near-unanimous praise for every film he’s made since “Thank You for Smoking” arrived in 2005, failed to impress the critics with his latest film starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. The coming-of-age drama, an adaptation of author Joyce Maynard’s novel of the same name, has been declared “Rotten” on critic aggregator Rotten Tomatoes after just 35 percent of 113 reviews were favorable. To make matters worse for the Paramount Pictures release, it appears “That Awkward Moment” — a poorly-reviewed bromantic comedy starring Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller — is going to conquer the weekend box office.
“Labor Day” centers on a teenager (Gattlin Griffith) struggling to be the man of the house in the wake of his parent’s divorce, which has left his mother (Winslet) severely depressed. One long Labor Day weekend changes their lives forever, however, after an escaped convict (Brolin) unexpectedly takes refuge in their home and begins to romance the single mom.


TheWrap’s Alonso Duralde was among the majority of critics who did not enjoy the film. He doesn’t blame the performances from Brolin or Winslet, so much as the unnecessary narration from the Tobey Maguire, who plays the grown-up version of Gattlin’s character.
“Writer-director Reitman, adapting the novel by Joyce Maynard, gives us a glimpse at the more interesting movie this material might have yielded: The camera tells us almost everything we need to know about the characters’ inner lives, their yearnings and their heartbreak,” Duralde wrote in his review. “Unfortunately, audiences apparently can’t be trusted to pay attention, so Reitman pours on unnecessary narration that rarely adds anything that the movie hasn’t already told us. Rather than choose to show us or tell us, ‘Labor Day’ all too frequently does both, to the film’s detriment.”
Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers wasn’t impressed, either.
“My goodwill drowned while trying to swallow this treacly cocktail of romantic swill,” Travers wrote. “In adapting Maynard’s 2009 novel, Reitman tries valiantly to close the ironic distance he showed in ‘Thank You for Smoking,’ ‘Juno,’ ‘Up in the Air’ and ‘Young Adult.’ No go. The pie looks delicious, but ‘Labor Day’ feels stale.”
Vulture’s David Edelstein called the drama “clunky, schematic, and drawn out,” but at least he got a good laugh out of it. Even though that does not seem to be the reaction Reitman or any of his collaborators wanted to induce.
“Jason Reitman’s tremulous romantic drama ‘Labor Day’ is an unintentional howl — a party movie begging for an audience armed with pie crusts, ropes, and a mean streak. It’s so terrible it’s amazing,” Edelstein wrote. “I didn’t enjoy laughing at Winslet, though, who overacts with all her heart, her eyes signaling fright while her lips and bosom quiver with longing.


New York Times critic Stephen Holden called the movie “an embarrassing comedown” for Reitman, but gave credit where credit is due to Winslet.
“The movie’s principal saving grace is Ms Winslet’s convincing portrayal of Adele, a despairing woman of low self-esteem just a twitch away from a nervous breakdown,” Holden wrote. “In almost every other respect, this overbaked romantic hokum is preposterous.”
Not everyone was turned off by the sappy romance tale. There are still 39 positive reviews floating around from trusted critics like Richard Roeper, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Steven Rea and Los Angeles Times critic Betsy Sharkey.
Sharkey advised her readers that “if you can get past the past, which I recommend, what is left is a lovely, intimate film about longing and love.”
“What unfolds over the long, hot holiday weekend is beautifully told and beautifully acted by Winslet, Brolin and Griffith,” Sharkey explains. “Tobey Maguire as narrator and in a cameo as a grown-up Henry adds another nice touch. It is the flashbacks that are a muddle.”
 


Love stories sometimes try to woo us the way that actual lovers do — they pour on the charm, the wit, the flirting, and in this early stage it’s easy to be dazzled. Whether or not the relationship takes can be determined only later, once we’re worked our way past the original faade and found out what lies underneath.
“At Middleton” gives a hell of a first impression, what with Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga giving crazy amounts of chemistry as mismatched parents getting to know each other while touring a college campus with their respective children. But the deeper we delve into the screenplay by Glenn German and director Adam Rodgers, the more obvious it becomes that there’s not much going on under the surface.
Type A heart surgeon George (Garcia) arrives at Middleton College with his prepster son Conrad (Spencer Lofranco) for a campus tour alongside the more free-spirited Edith (Farmiga) and her ambitious daughter Audrey (Taissa Farmiga of “American Horror Story,” who’s actually Vera’s much-younger sister).
Both parents had hoped the trip would be a bonding experience with their kids who will soon be leaving the nest, but the two wind up getting separated from the group, and as they explore the grounds, their initial antipathy winds up giving way to stronger feelings.
Rodgers is clearly going for a breezy French vibe here, something that’s apparent long before George and Edith stumble into a projection booth where “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” is being screened. Whether they’re zipping down pathways on stolen bikes or grabbing each other’s arms to run off to their next destination, George and Edith are constantly being framed as though the director were trying to recreate the one-sheet for “Cousin, Cousine,” all to the accompaniment of Arturo Sandoval’s Georges Deleru-influenced score.


It’s easy to fall under the spell of “At Middleton,” at first, anyway - shooting on three different Washington state campuses, Emmanuel Kadosh’s sun-dappled cinematography makes the leads positively glow, and Garcia and Vera Farmiga genuinely click, taking their fairly clich stuffed-shirt-versus-bohemian characters and giving them heft that’s missing from the page.
As the day progresses, and all four major characters learn life lessons and break down the fundamental self-delusions of their lives, however, the movie starts seeming more and more like a freshman writing exercise that needs a lot more drafts.
Pity, because the cast (which also includes Peter Riegert as a grizzled campus-radio vet and Tom Skerritt as a distinguished professor) gives this trifle all they’ve got, and they all deserve better. Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga, in particular, offer up the kind of rapport that merits revisiting.
I vote for casting them both in a remake of “Hart to Hart” once Farmiga has fulfilled her “Bates Motel” duties, but really, any script that allows them to be smart and sexy but also offers three strong acts would be just fine.

 

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