Yes, indeed – for those who might’ve wondered, that’s what my BookClub looks like.
So. Labor Day. Labor Day. The film Labor Day, based on the book Labor Day which was based on the holiday Labor Day. You might recall that that motley assortment of folks and I read and discussed this book a few weeks back. As part of a delightful promotion with William Morrow, we also then went to see the film. With snacks in hand (thanks again, Alaina / William Morrow team!), we trekked out before the most recent blast of winter terribleness descended upon New York City and settled into the (really quite comfy) seats of the Bow Tie Cinema in Chelsea.
Now, for those who need a recap: five of us quite enjoyed the book, on its own ridiculous silly terms. Jake, not so much. HOWEVER, Jake is a big Jason Reitman fan – and our confusion at Reitman’s decision to make this film powered a lot of our pre-show conversation. Would he bring the same sense of frenetic, darkly witty humor to the proceedings as he did in Juno or Young Adult?
….sadly the answer is no. Not only was Jake not won over to the story by the movie, but the rest of us actually felt a little less enthusiastic about the book based on what we’d seen on screen. Which, it should be said, is no fault of the book – the fault lies, quite squarely, on Reitman’s shoulders.
Because he completely missed the lightness and even humor of the book. Right from the get-go, things feel tonally wrong – a trembling score that plays pretty much incessantly through the whole film starts us on edge. Then, in the scene in the department store where Adelle and Henry meet Frank… Frank is more threatening, menacing, than we ever pictured him. Indeed, this remains throughout the film, this uneasy glimmer of violence inside of Frank – but that sits at odds with the depiction of Frank in the book. While he’s gruff, Maynard makes it quite clear that he’s a gentle giant. Jake, at dinner after the film, put forth the idea that Frank might actually be a psychopath and based on the portrayal here, you could write that college essay and probably come away with an A.
It was probably when he tied Adelle up with ropes instead of silks that I really realized we were in for a rough page-to-screen transition. For a book that was so all about sex and the relationships between people, there was surprisingly little sex in this film. There was, in fact, very little at all that seemed even remotely sexy. Even Kate Winslet, one of the most beautiful actresses in history, is made out to be a bit of a frump – again, an oversimplification of the novel’s nuance. The novel displayed her depression, her agoraphobia, but also showed the radiant woman underneath – the one who comes out again when Frank arrives. But in the film, it’s like they thought “well, everyone knows Kate Winslet is gorgeous so that should take care of that, right?” and just gave no thought to actually developing the character.
We were also pretty disappointed by the pie sequence, although the tracking shot of the pie cooking in the oven was pretty cool. And in the end, as we approached Tuesday morning (also, guys, it was raining in the book and rainy denouements are ALWAYS preferable in these kinds of movies – plus, the whole metaphor of the heat breaking? So good… so why’d it get lost on the way to the screen?), we were all a bit restless. The only other couple in the theater, perturbed undoubtedly by the fact that they weren’t the only people in the theater, even got up and left about 15 minutes from the end. It just kind of sputtered out and even Tobey Maguire (who did, credit where credit is due, look like a grown-up version of the kid) couldn’t bring our interest back around. Had Reitman brought his sense of humor to the movie, it could’ve been damned great – but instead, it just provided some delightful commentary and conversation for dinner at Co. after the movie. And the BookClub rolls on…