Tag Archives: Labor Day

Men, Women & Children

People apparently still make films like Men, Women & Children.  This is disconcerting.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

men women & childrenDear Jason Reitman,

Congratulations!  You have just directed and co-written one of the absolute worst and most reprehensible pieces of shit I have bared witness to in all of 2014!  I can imagine that you approached the task of directing and co-writing Men, Women & Children – based on a 2011 novel by Chad Kultgen – with some trepidation.  I mean, after all, how could you possibly bottom out harder than you did when you wrote and directed Labor Daya relentless schmaltzy bucket of unicorn piss where Stockholm Syndrome is supposedly the most romantic thing in the world?  Yet you did not let that high bar hit your determination, and you managed to surpass it in just pure, Stone Age, out-of-touch backwardness with flying colours!  Well done!  Gold star!

I mean, it’s 2014 and you made a film all about how technology is The Devil!  I thought that we had outgrown that kind of shit by 2003!  One of the characters in your film blames 9/11 for the rise of mobile phones and the Internet!  I mean, that takes real conscious effort!  That’s not the kind of sentence one tosses off without thinking about.  That takes real, honest effort; the kind where the person who writes it down sits back and reflects upon it and at no point goes, “No, wait, hang on a minute, that’s f*cking stupid and borderline offensive.”  And for a scene like that to perfectly encapsulate proceedings as a whole requires that kind of real, honest effort to sustain itself through two full hours.  So I applaud your commitment, Mr. Reitman!

I especially admire just how far you push your pretentious “Oh, look at me, I have something to say that nobody has ever thought of or expressed before!” sentiments by framing the film with frequent cutbacks to the NASA space probe Voyager, whilst an absolutely wasted and bored-as-hell Emma Thompson drones on in the background about everything and nothing at once.  Like, the message that we are all tiny insignificant specks fretting over nothing and wasting our lives away with technology instead of putting our minds together and attempting to improve humanity’s future by building technology?  Sheer genius!  I’m also certain that the fact that the rest of the film is so vehemently anti-technology and anti-Internet – because of how it is RUINING SOCIAL INTERACTIONS – didn’t pass you by and you, therefore, chose to be so blatantly hypocritical because that’s just how committed you were to making an utterly dreadful piece of crap!

Anyways, sorry, your main message from Men, Women & Children: the Internet and mobile phones and the kids today with their texting and their Instagramming and their vidjagames and their wotsits and howdiddos are ruining everybody’s relationships forever.  Very interesting.  Original, too!  Not ideas-wise, I mean, but in sheer bloody commitment and bald-faced moralising about it all.  I mean, even Transcendence wasn’t this committed to its moralising beliefs, and that was a film that believed that women should stay away from science because their emotions ruin everything!  You, Jason Reitman, could have used this topic for a genuinely balanced and interesting look at how technology has affected our lives and day-to-day relationships.  But, hey, why do that when we can coat proceedings in endless dour humourless “guys, I have just had this huge brainwave” serious tone, strip out any trace of another side to this argument, and just speechify and moralise for two straight hours?

After all, did you hear that people use the Internet and text messaging and the like to bully people and send death threats?  And that there are places and images on the Internet that promote anorexic levels of thinness, which can really hurt a young woman’s self-esteem?  And we can’t forget about those darn videogames that encourage long-form play!  Oh, and how about how the Internet allows teenagers to post revealing pictures of themselves online despite not being of age?  These are all things that happen – they’re not the only things that happen on the Internet, but why let that little fact get in the way of some scaremongering, eh? – and you rightly chose to present them as if you and your co-writer, Secretary’s Erin Cressida Wilson, were the very first people to have ever discovered them and your viewers are Amish farmers frozen in the 1950s who have just been thawed!  Really adds to the stupidly moralistic feel.

Oh, and porn!  Let’s not forget about porn!  Porn warps one’s mind and makes them incapable of experiencing real intimacy because their mind has been irreparably twisted by the uncouth fantasies and desires that porn does to a young man’s mind!  I must also applaud your distributor, Paramount, for choosing to release Men, Women & Children just 4 days after British government passed a number of laws banning certain acts in pornography, by the by.  Truly inspired timing!  I mean, what would have come off as a preachy Puritan parent beforehand now gets to come off as morally righteous propaganda that our idiot politicians would likely applaud and back as proof of their decision!

Besides, as we all know, pornography is The Absolute Devil and the Internet doubles that devilry by making it easier than ever to get a hold of it.  Plus, now there’s no fun in it!  After all, back in your day, Mr. Reitman, finding pornography was a rite of passage!  One passed down from generation to generation as young sons would stumble upon their father’s magazine collection and continue the cycle.  Excellent work putting that sentiment into your script and having an unreally bored Emma Thompson read it with no trace of sarcasm or irony to really seal that Crotchety Old Man stance, by the by.  This whole thread is like you watched Don Jon and set out to make a film that does the exact opposite of that film’s nuanced take on Porn Addiction; I admire that commitment.

Anyways: relationships!  What is up with those, amiright?  Mr. Reitman, I must say that I find your approach to the various aspects of relationships depicted in this film to be wonderfully misguided.  I mean, it takes brass balls to make a two hour feature whose primary message reads “These relationships would be considerably less f*cked if the Internet weren’t around to facilitate these darkest desires!”  After all, Judy Greer’s pushy exploitative stage mom would never have pushed her daughter, Olivia Crocicchia, into being such a selfish shitty human being if the Internet didn’t literally allow her to exploit her daughter, and Olivia wouldn’t have become such a shitty human being if she didn’t measure her life by her follower count – because teenagers had never worried about popularity until these convenient number totals came along!

Meanwhile, Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt – married parents who no longer feel any desire for one another – would never have started having affairs on one another if it weren’t for the Internet!  After all, the Internet makes it too darn easy; there are literally websites set up for the sole purpose of meeting people to have affairs with!  And their teenage son would have been such a happy and normal boy if it weren’t for that blasted porn warping his brain.  Elena Kampouris, elsewhere, wouldn’t be having body image issues if that damn Internet wasn’t there pressuring her with constant reinforcement!  And look at what the Internet has done to Jennifer Garner!  It’s made her so paranoid about her daughter that she relentlessly stalks her entire Internet and mobile phone presence because THAT GODDAMN INTERNET RUINING EVERYTHING!

An actually good film would have looked at how the Internet affects such situations whilst still acknowledging that these are things that would happen anyway.  But, Mr. Reitman, you realised that such a road would be dreadfully boring and that increasing bewilderment over the realisation that Men, Women & Children sincerely believes that these would not be problems if it weren’t for THAT MOTHERFRAKKIN’ INTERNET is a much better choice!  I was kinda hoping you’d go the whole hog and claim that Major League Baseball was controlling the world via satellites, but I guess you wanted to reign back and settle on “crazy homeless man with tinfoil hats” as your default setting.  Understandable.

I particularly enjoyed the scene, Mr. Reitman, in which you had Dean Norris discover the Guild Wars that Ansel Elgort is into.  The way that he reacts to a keyboard input equalling a character movement in the game like a caveman does fire or a cat does its shadow?  Would have been utterly inadvertently hysterical if you hadn’t played it – much like you play everything else in this film – with this dreary, humourless tone that accurately reflects the guy at a party who thinks he’s all smart to politics and life and stuff but then he opens his mouth and you realise he’s just a f*cking idiot.  After all, we wouldn’t want this film to risk crossing over into “So Bad, It’s Good” territory, do we?  That would defeat the purpose of this whole entire exercise!

And the cast that you assembled for this thing!  Ansel Elgort – turning in a performance that is less “depressed teen” and more “sleepwalking actor” – Dean Norris – who looks incredibly hopelessly lost with his material – Jennifer Garner – turning in a performance that somehow makes her obnoxiously awful character (who the film ultimately ends up proving right a lot due to pretty much nobody being allowed to end this film happy; nice touch) even more unbearable – the disembodied voice of Emma Thompson – whose every word practically screams “can I take my paycheque now?” – Dennis Haysbert and J. K. Simmons – who both get absolutely nothing to do – the wonderful Judy Greer – committed but saddled with atrocious material – Adam Sandler’s once-every-half-decade dramatic role – wasted by getting nothing to do – and a cameo by Phil LaMarr.  It is like you were going out of your way to waste actors and actresses I like!  Bravo!

You know something, Jason Reitman?  I got you all wrong.  I thought I had pegged you for one of the new great filmmakers.  Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air, Young Adult…  That’s a resume that seemingly indicates a filmmaker of great skill, a storyteller who knows exactly how to pitch each scene without it coming across as either a thuddingly obnoxious morality lecture or having a thoroughly misguided moral compass.  But 2014 has seemingly proven me wrong.  Apparently you just want to make disgustingly reprehensible movies with no self-awareness of how incredibly shitty or out-of-touch the finished products come off as.

Well I salute your vision, Mr. Jason Reitman!  That was a really nice touch, too, pretending to build up an actual career before torching it near-totally in the space of 12 months in order to make me feel betrayed that a director such as yourself would voluntarily flush that talent, spark and drive down the toilet.  You absolutely don’t need to take a few years off, reflect long and hard on your last two films, realise exactly where and why everything went wrong, re-hone your skills and come back revitalised and ready to make great movies again!  I mean, why should you?  Men, Women & Children is your magnum opus: a putrid, regressive, out-of-touch, overly preachy, one-sided, humourless slog of a movie.  The kind that can only come about through sheer determination to make a film that offended and bewildered me as much as is humanly possible.

Keep up the utterly dreadful work, mate!

Yours,

Callum Petch

Callum Petch feels love.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

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Labor Day

Labour Day
Labor Day

Labor Day is a saccharinely sweet, obnoxiously earnest piece of unromantic romantic tripe from a filmmaker who both can do better and is good enough to keep this from being truly awful.

by Callum Petch

Jason Reitman had an unblemished track record.  He burst onto the feature film scene with 2005’s darkly hilarious Thank You For Smoking, followed it up with the moving and saddening (and also, for pretty much everyone except me, funny) Juno, succeeded that with the damn near masterpiece Up In The Air and then re-teamed with Diablo Cody for the subversive and real Young Adult.  His films near-expertly juggled comedy and drama, presented lovable or relatable or, at the very least, entertaining and interesting characters and, and this is something that a lot of filmmakers seem to have forgotten how to do these days so it’s worth pointing out, he knew how to craft excellent endings.  That unblemished track record was no joke, you could pretty much guarantee quality if you turned up to a Jason Reitman film.

The usage of the past tense in that previous paragraph is not an oversight on my part.  See, Jason Reitman had that unblemished track record.  Unfortunately, that unblemished track record had to grow its first zit some time, show me a filmmaker who has never made a below-par film and I’ll show you a way inside Fort Knox, and that time has finally arrived for Mr. Reitman.  For Labor Day, based on a bestselling and critically acclaimed 2003 romance novel of the same name (in what must have been a really slow year for decent novels, if the evidence displayed here is anything to go by), is garbage.  And yet, maybe it’s a testament to the skill of Reitman as a filmmaker that my predominate thought when leaving the cinema was not “that was dreadful and offensive sh*te” but instead “well, that could have been a lot worse”.

So our story is set in 1987 and we follow mother and son Adele (Kate Winslet who, if Divergent does end up as bad as it looks, is not having a great start to 2014) and Henry (Gattlin Griffith and, yes, that is his actual name, I checked).  Adele has been suffering from depression, seemingly because her husband (Clark Gregg) left her but actually because of really stupid and misguided reasons, and this renders her practically incapable of leaving the house.  Henry tries as best he can to make her happier, but it’s not working and he’s at a loss as to how to make things better.

Enter Frank (Josh Brolin, who I think has officially used up all of the goodwill he earned in 2007 & 2008 by this point), an escaped convict who was thrown in jail for murder that he insists is way more complicated than it sounds except that, no, it really is not.  He forces Adele and Henry to shelter him at their place from the cops whilst his wounds heal over Labor Day weekend.  Except that, whilst he’s recuperating, it turns out that good old Frank is actually a perfectly swell guy who fixes things up, talks politely, turns into the father figure that Henry never got, and Adele also ends up falling for him because, oh, have you seen his arms!  And the way he broods!  And he is just such an excellent baker!  I want him inside of me, right now!

I apologise for not falling head over heels for the charms of Frank, the convicted and unrepentant murderer, but this is f*cking awful.  No film relationship, no convincing and heartfelt film relationship, can or should ever begin with an escaped ex-con threatening to murder the female protagonist’s son.  If you’re doing it as a complex drama, that asks you to sit and psychologically analyse the two people involved and how they would reach such a situation, a character study that never explicitly asks you to empathise with or root for those involved, go right ahead.  That actually sounds really interesting; get on it, Hollywood!  If you’re going to ask me to sit down and root for these two lovebirds for the course of two hours, to share in their intimacy and heartbreak and to be begging for them to somehow make it work for these crazy cats even whilst this cruel and heartless universe strives to keep them apart, I am going to snort derisively and consider you a little screwed up.

What part of this is romantic?  Explain to me how any part of this scenario is supposed to get my heartstrings all tangled and tugged at.  I am dying to know, here.  Please, regale me with a thousand word essay on how this is comparable to Romeo And Juliet.  They’re both doomed romances, because SOCIETY JUST DOESN’T UNDERSTAND THEIR LOVE, but one begins with a chance meeting at a masquerade ball and involves two people falling for each other in a love at first sight type deal, whilst the other comes into being through the combined efforts of Josh Brolin’s smoulder and Stockholm Syndrome.  It’s romance written by and for people who either have had no actual experience with romance and love or have unrealistically high and stupid expectations for romance and love.  None of this is the fault of Winslet or Brolin and probably not so much Reitman too, this sounds like an abysmal launch point of material and they’re all trying really hard to make it work, but they’re putting in doomed efforts.  The material isn’t romantic and, quite honestly, it’s kinda repulsive.

Not once did I buy into the affection that the pair shared for one another.  Frank never seems to have a reason for why he’s so taken to Adele and Adele’s entire reasoning as to why she’s fallen for Frank can basically be boiled down to “she’s damaged goods” thanks to a horrifically misguided and melodramatic late-game reveal as to why she’s so depressed.  I’m not saying that the plot point itself is the thing that should be off-limits, I am saying that it needs to be handled way better than it was here and, preferably, not used as provocative fuel for a romance weepy.  And as for Frank, the convicted and unrepentant murderer?  The film teases what he did by randomly strewing short, near-wordless flashbacks to his past throughout the film even though anybody who is aware that this is a romance film will have gathered what it is in about five seconds.  Then the reveal comes and the film practically bends over backwards to make Frank seem totally justified, all but openly inviting viewers to join in in shouting “YEAH, TAKE THAT, B*TCH!  YOU GOT WHAT WAS COMING TO YOU!”  Funnily enough, I did not take this bait.

And yet, I can’t muster up the energy or the passion to maul Labor Day to pieces.  Maker knows I have tried, repugnant stuff is being peddled here under the pretence of “Aw!  Look at the couple in all the love!  All the love!  So much love!”  But I can’t and that’s because the film is too competently made and too earnest for me to get angry at.  It’s not like 300: Rise of an Empire where it’s sneaking by a lot of problematic subtext without even realising it because it’s competently made, and it’s not like A New York Winter’s Tale where it totally fails as a film on every basic level.  No, this is a film that knows exactly what it’s doing and is completely sincere in what it is peddling in that decently-constructed product.  And it’s that sincerity that makes it hard for me to get angry at this film.

Even when Henry stupidly engages the shifty-looking stranger with the bleeding wound in the store instead of running away (seriously, it’s not like Frank has him cornered, Henry all but walks up to and talks to the guy); even when Frank ties up Adele and feeds her tinned tomatoes, both in a manner that, yes, is supposed to represent sexual feelings being exchanged; even when Frank leads the pair through the steps of how to bake a nice pear pie in a sequence that would be more fitting a Saturday morning cooking show; even when the film trots out a mentally disabled and physically crippled child whose mother beats him when he gets on her nerves; even when the film juxtaposes Frank and Adele’s romance with Henry’s own sexual awakening and his growing closeness to The Most Annoying And Precocious Fictional Girl of 2014 So Far; and even when the film’s romance fully kicks in and asks us to root for their planned run for the border, I couldn’t get mad.  I couldn’t elicit any strong emotions either way.

It’s all so… nice and pleasant.  The film equivalent of wallpaper.  I would have said the film equivalent of a nice warm hug except that a] I reserve that phrase for usage in reference to Studio Ghibli productions only and b] that would insinuate that I was touched by this film at some point.  I wasn’t.  I was mostly bored but I could at least appreciate the well-done technical side of the proceedings.  The end sequence before the extended denouement is genuinely tense for a while (well, until stupid stuff resolve or complicate things), Rolfe Kent scores most of the film like a suspense drama instead of a romance flick which, if nothing else, adds a different spin to this kind of film than I’m used to, it’s very lovingly shot, Reitman keeps the pace from feeling languid, even if it never fully managed to excite or engage me and all of the cast are alright if not particularly great (the exception being Gattlin Griffith, who is just plain atrocious and could give Twilight-era Kristen Stewart a run for her money in the Dull Surprise stakes).  If the romance at its centre was not predicated on f*cking Stockholm Syndrome, and instead on something, you know, romantic, I would give this a mild pass as a decent timewaster, even if it is rather dull.

But I keep coming back to that premise and I just can’t get over it.  It’s not romantic and the film can’t compensate for the lack of romance in that premise by injecting some believability into proceedings, instead resorting to tired and manipulative melodrama.  Here are three people who fall in love because the woman likes the way he smoulders, the man likes the way she loves him for his smoulder and the son loves him for being a man and stuff… despite the fact that the man coerced them into hiding his murdering arse from the police and repeatedly threatens to kill them if he is exposed.  I’ve been racking my brains trying to figure out exactly why 300: Rise of an Empire’s misogyny and racism irked me into a ball of white hot rage despite it being well-made disposable nonsense and yet this, with its toxic romanticising of murderers and escaped convicts and damaged women who need a good smouldering man to repair them, can barely get me to shrug my shoulders in disgust, but I’ve still yet to figure it out.

The best reason I’ve got right now is simply the fact that Labor Day is so well made that I can’t really feel the need to get exasperated about it or anything.  It’s so well made, that if the romance at its centre were predicated on almost literally anything else, and even if the execution of that new romance was still as unconvincing and mediocrely done as it is right now, I’d probably be giving it a mild recommendation.  But it’s not, and that’s what sinks the film.  It’s not enough to get mad and angry and hollering and hooting in rage, but it’s not decent enough to be worth your time despite the premise.  Jason Reitman has finally got a black mark on his directorial record.  Let’s hope it’s his last for a long while.

Callum Petch has got the game spiced like ham.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!