In a small town in Massachusetts in 1987, young Henry (Gattlin Griffith) lives alone with his fragile mother, Adele (Kate Winslet). She hasn’t been the same since the boy’s father left, and her depression has intensified to the point of her becoming a shut-in, only venturing away from the house once a month to collect groceries. On one such trip they encounter Frank (Josh Brolin), who has just escaped from prison and is in need of somewhere to lay low before he catches the next train out of town. Adele reluctantly helps Frank – who quietly yet forcefully insinuates harm will come to them if they do not help – but due to it being a holiday weekend and a lack of trains, Frank is forced to stay with this fractured family, and soon finds himself and Adele getting closer than he had intended.
This is a strange film for Jason Reitman to be directing. It’s an adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel of the same name, which is fine, but where Reitman’s work is usually peppered with snappy dialogue and an often broad humour streak, here we have nothing but melodrama, and lot’s of it. This is his fifth feature film, and by following the pattern of the one’s he has made so far, this should have been excellent. By that I mean that, in opposition to the supposed truth about Star Trek films, with Reitman all his odd numbered films are excellent. I loved Thank You For Smoking, initially approved of but have since tired of Juno, adored Up in the Air and was left unfulfilled by Young Adult, so I had high hoped for this picture. Unfortunately, the stellar acting performances are let done by a tedious plot, lacklustre dialogue and an ending that just doesn’t work.I mentioned that Reitman usually plays around with zippy, off kilter scripts, which is the biggest thing missing from this picture. There are a few moments – a couple of scenes between Henry and a new girl in town (Maika Monroe) show promise, and take directions you may not expect – but otherwise the dialogue is blunt, deliberate and uninspired. The same can be said for the story as a whole, with very little occurring that isn’t entirely predictable from the off. There are many hints to Frank’s incarceration being a mistake, or at least the crime he committed not playing out as has been stated, yet when this turns out to be true it is played as a major revelation, despite the myriad of flashbacks dancing around the issue and all but explaining the events several times before all the previously-seen dots are connected in one sequence. Likewise, the final plan devised by Frank and Adele is ludicrous to say the least, and how they came upon it I’ll never know.That being said, the performances by the main cast are fantastic. Brolin has an animalistic intensity that makes him believable as the dangerous convict, but also the paternal father-figure and caring lover he slowly ascends to. Winslet is also wonderful – as always – and manages to give a layered performances that could have quite easily descended into parody in lesser hands. The rest of the cast is somewhat surprising, featuring supporting roles from the likes of Reitman regular J. K. Simmons and, somewhat surprisingly, James Van Der Beek. I’m not sure why I was so surprised, I just didn’t expect to see him crop up here. Also, the initial relationship depicted between Adele and Henry is well realised, clearly showing the son to be the more dominant force in the relationship, from the way he corrects the gear position in the car without Adele noticing, or how he is pulling their shopping trolley in the direction it needs to go, whilst his mother still sees herself as steering it. It’s touching, but also a little creepy, when the narration points out that the son tried to be a husband to his mother, taking her on a date to the cinema or cooking her dinner, but was not able to fulfil all of a husband’s duties. That’s right, there’s a moment in this film where sex is insinuated between a mother and her 13 year old son. It doesn’t actually take place and is fortunately never even attempted, but like I said; creepy.One of the more infamous scenes of the film was also one of the more bizarre inclusions, and was somewhat disappointing when actually seeing it. I’d heard a lot about the peach pie baking scene, specifically how it would make me look at peaches in a new way, but unless I missed something the whole scene played out fairly straightforwardly, other than it being included in the first place, and the film turning briefly into an episode of MasterChef, wherein we see every single individual step of the baking process. I understand that it’s the moment the three main characters establish themselves as a family unit, with the all-talented Frank settling into his role as surrogate father and husband, I just can’t understand why everyone was talking about it upon release. Maybe it was critics desperately searching for a scene they could latch onto and actually have an opinion about in this otherwise desolate wasteland of mediocrity.Also, I was utterly shocked that Winslet remained fully clothed throughout. Granted, her dresses becomes progressively lower cut throughout the sticky heat of the film, but you never see those assets she has become infamous for revealing, despite this being the exact kind of film you’d think they’d be guaranteed in. I hope this doesn’t sound perverted – I wasn’t watching the film primarily to see her naked, I’m merely expressing my surprise.
All in all this was a disappointing effort from a director I normally like to keep an eye on. In my book this now marks Reitman as having more misses than hits, so he’ll need to work hard if he wishes to regain me as a fan.
Choose life 5/10