Depressed, divorced mother Adele (Kate Winslet) and her 12 year old son Henry (Gatlin Griffith) agree to give a lift to Frank (Josh Brolin), who has just escaped from prison and is hurt. He talks them into letting him lay low for a while in their house. As police search town for the escaped convict through all of the Labor Day weekend, the mother and son gradually get to know Frank and the story behind the crime for which he was jailed. But their options become increasingly limited.
Review by Louise Keller:
A jail escapee, a depressed single mother and an impressionable pubescent boy reach the crossroads in this riveting drama set over the 1987 Labor Day long weekend, in which surprise is the key element. There should be more directors like Jason Reitman - he manages to take a premise and flesh it out in such a rich way, that we become totally engrossed in its reality and characters - just as he did with his screenplays for Thank You for Smoking (2005) and Up in the Air (2009).
Reitman's adaptation of Joyce Maynard's novel is uncluttered in that it allows us to hone in on the three central characters without distractions. Likewise, the film's three stars Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin and Gattlin Griffith portray the essence of their troubled characters with brutal honesty and conviction. Expect the unexpected in this disarmingly edgy film that exposes the hungers of love and the rewards that patience and open hearts offer.
Reitman quickly establishes the premise: it is at one of Adele's (Winslet) nervous monthly supermarket outings with her teenage son Henry (Griffith), that an injured Frank (Brolin) insists she drives him back to her place. By then, it has already been established that there is something desperately lacking in Adele's life, despite Henry's valiant efforts to fill the gap. Like Adele and Henry, we are on tenterhooks, waiting to see what Frank is going to do.
Yes, he ties Adele's hands and feet (for appearances, he says) but it is Rolfe Kent's lyrical music that offers a clue as Frank behaves more like a helpful house guest than the convicted murderer the papers say he is. There is handyman stuff, even ironing and as Frank clues Henry up on the subject of baseball (and other things), he becomes the role model that Henry's remarried father (Clark Gregg) can never be.
The scene when Frank teaches Adele and Henry to make a peach pie (they all get their hands sticky) is pivotal in that it is the first time they are creating something together - tangible and symbolic. The sensuality of the hand mixing of the fruit and pastry unsurprisingly brings consequences - for all parties. Even Frank's cooking instructions are suggestively loaded. As the pastry is rolled, it is raw and rough - not unlike the relationships at that moment. It is the turning point of the film.
On each of the five days of the long weekend during which time Frank stays well hidden, something unexpected happens. The scene when a neighbour's disabled boy is left with them plays out as a wonderful surprise - with a sting in the tail. We take note of the words of the teenage girl from Chicago, who tells Henry when people have sex, their brains are affected. It is especially relevant in the context of both Henry's parents individually having made gauche attempts to deliver 'the sex enlightenment' conversation to their already aware son.
You might have guessed that a relationship develops between Adele and Frank - the nature of how it develops is something you will want to see for yourself. Flashbacks of Frank's past explain his circumstances and likewise the flashback about Adele succinctly fills in the missing links. The film's emotional arc rises and falls and music once again alerts us to the film's change in tone as ominous monotonic rhythms replace the melodic.
Brolin has presence and charisma to spare while Winslet is both understated and internal. It is not a glamour role, yet Winslet's appeal shines through from the honesty in her eyes. Griffith is outstanding - the strength of the emotions he delivers fills the screen. Reitman directs his actors well and gets the tone just right. Watch out for Tobey Maguire in a small, but effective cameo.
This is a film about delicate issues, which are delicately handled. Romance is alive and well but there is no schmaltz. It's an unusual relationship drama that teeters constantly on its edge of unpredictability, offering tension, humour and a great sense hope. After all, as Frank remarks, nothing misleads people like the truth.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Jason Reitman hit the cinematic streets with his snazzy Thank You For Smoking (2005), showing a natural flair for complex themes and characters, a decidedly sardonic temperament and a great sense for casting. He must work well with actors because J. K. Simmons, who had a biggish role in Smoking, turns up in Labor Day for a single scene. And Tobey Maguire, while providing the grown up Henry in also a single scene, is the voice over storyteller.
The main characters are just as precisely cast, with the endless range of Josh Brolin as Frank and the vibrant emotionality of Kate Winslet as Adele combining to great effect. Youngster Gatlin Griffith - crucial to the film and present in most scenes - is masterfully directed in his restrained performance, adding to the film's sense of authenticity.
Reitman's adaptation is thorough and complete, in that he retains some of the key textures and emotional backstories which form the principal characters, enriching the film as well as our experience of it.
My only quibble is with Reitman's decision to overuse the suspense element in a couple of key scenes when Frank, Adele and/or Henry are at risk; it looks too obviously a device to manipulate the audience into tension.
On the other hand, Reitman handles the story with confidence and power, and he reveals what really happened in Frank's past and why, bit by bit in short flashbacks (using Tom Lipinski as a credible young Frank). As intended, these details back up our character assessment of Frank, who otherwise may seem a bit too good to be true, both as a male role model for Henry and as a man who could well take the place vacated by her ex.
Rolfe Kent's score is appropriately dark and moody much of the time, and the story has grip and as the final scenes play out, we are offered both heartbreak and redemption in a melancholy film with sharp observations of human nature (child and adult) along the way.
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LABOR DAY (M)
CAST: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gatlin Griffith, Dylan Minnette, Gattlin Griffith, Tom Lipinski,
NARRATION: Tobey Maguire
PRODUCER: Helen Estabrook, Lianne Halfon, Russell Smith
DIRECTOR: Jason Reitman
SCRIPT: Jason Reitman (novel by Joyce Maynard)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eric Steelberg
EDITOR: Dana E. Glauberg
MUSIC: Rolfe Kent
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Steve Saklad
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 6, 2014