Introduction

Labor Day

Labor Day
  • Country of production: USA
  • Year: 2013
  • Certificate: 12A
  • Director: Jason Reitman
  • Running time: 111 minutes
 

Labor Day is a poignant and heart-warming movie that combines kidnap thriller, coming-of-age tale and romantic melodrama. A single mother, Adele (KATE WINSLET), and her son are taken hostage by an escaped convict, Frank (JOSH BROLIN). As their initial fear recedes they develop a close attachment to Frank and the three of them become, for a while at least, like a family. Kate Winslet's ‘bravura’ performance (Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent) was nominated for a Golden Globe and this latest from critically acclaimed director JASON REITMAN is ‘a lovely, intimate film... beautifully told and beautifully acted’ (Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times).

The drama is viewed from the perspective of Adele’s son, 13-year-old Henry (disarmingly played by newcomer GATTLIN GRIFFITH), and takes place mainly over the five days of the Labor Day holiday weekend in September 1987.

Frank has eluded his guard at a hospital and, having spotted Adele and Henry shopping, insists on going home with them to rest until he can make his getaway. The TV news describes him as dangerous but he comes to reveal a gentle side, doing odd jobs for them and, most memorably, teaching Adele and Henry to make peach pie.

Adapted from the bestselling novel by Joyce Maynard, this is quite a departure for Reitman, who is known for smart and sassy comedies that touch on more serious subjects (the dangers of cigarettes in Thank You for Smoking,teen pregnancy in Juno and economic crisis in Up in the Air). The tone here is more tender. Set against the sumptuous backdrop of a sultry Massachusetts summer, what unfolds is absorbing and erotic, as the depressed, sensually deprived Adele is awakened from her stupor, while at the same time her pubescent son learns from Frank what it means to be a man.

Flashbacks and narration by the grown-up Henry (TOBEY MAGUIRE) gradually reveal the reasons for Frank's incarceration and Adele's breakdown.

In less sensitive hands the subject matter – a sensitive boy, his distressed mother and a desperate, escaped murderer – could have lapsed into cliché, but here it is skilfully blended into a story that resonates long after the film has ended. ‘Satisfying and deeply touching’, Labor Day ‘throbs with an understated depth of emotion rarely experienced in films today’ (Rex Reed, The New York Observer).

Re-view

Labor Day

LABOUR OF LOVE

‘Fifty years ago this would have been a film noir about a housewife who falls for her captor, starring Joan Crawford, with lots of great-looking shadows and a tingly sense of dread. Now, it's a subtly acted and directed film about a woman's mid-life renaissance.’

(TOM SHONE, THE GUARDIAN)

Kate Winslet is accustomed to playing long-suffering wives and single mothers, having done so in Little Children (2006), Revolutionary Road (2008) and Mildred Pierce (2011). ‘Always good at frazzled and distracted’ (Philip Kemp, Sight & Sound), she succeeds in conveying both Adele's depressed and anxious state and her underlying spirit and later rebirth. ‘Managing to look both frumpy and alluring... Winslet outstandingly reveals the numerous ways Adele is pulled emotionally by the sudden eventfulness of her life after all these years’ (Richard Corliss, Time Magazine).

Labour intensive

We learn that Henry's father dumped Adele in favour of his prissy secretary because, as he explains to his son, “I just wanted a normal life.” In this case “normal” meant avoiding the agonies suffered by Adele in her unsuccessful attempts to carry a child to term after her first-born. The conflict between the pressure in American life to conform and the deeper human needs of love and spiritual fulfilment form a powerful theme that is artfully woven into the fabric of this film.

Gattlin Griffith ‘sidesteps preciousness at every turn’ in evoking Henry's adolescent awkwardness and uncertainty (Tim Grierson, Screen International). He tries with touching pathos to look after his mother but clearly a “real man” is called for and, in contrast to Henry’s father, Frank is clearly just that. Frank had materialised in the supermarket ‘from behind a display of superhero comics, almost as much a fantasy made flesh for the boy as he is for his mother’ (Catherine Shoard, The Guardian).

Ties that bind

The film's paradox is that reclusive, angst-ridden Adele is freed from her self-imposed house arrest by a prisoner who ties her up. Josh Brolin plays the role of a deeply masculine, yet sensitive male with a studied intensity that is as mesmerising to watch as it is for Adele and Henry to experience. ‘Brolin is an old-fashioned kind of male lead, as slow and deliberate in his speech and movements as Gary Cooper in a Western’ (Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent).

Ripe fruit, but not over-cooked

Critics relished the slightly camp eroticism of the scene where Frank teaches Adele (and Henry) to make peach pie, describing how he ‘plunges his manly hands into yielding, ripe peach flesh, while murmuring, “The filling is easy, but I want to talk about crust”’ (Tom Shone, The Guardian).

Frank says, “If you pay attention to recipes, you forget how to feel.” To continue the theme, while on paper the ingredients of the film's plot may be improbable, Reitman's assured direction means they are brought together in such a way that they adhere without being over-done. ‘Such is Reitman's control of the material – which he explores with steady, observant understatement – that we're willing to meet the characters halfway in their difficult attempt to make this relationship last’ (Tim Grierson, Screen International). ‘There's craft, care and sensitivity in every frame of Labor Day,’ wrote Tim Robey in The Daily Telegraph, and the film is ‘brilliantly executed’ (Catherine Shoard, The Guardian).

It is ‘beautifully shot’, with a lyrical quality akin to Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life (2011), wrote Geoffrey Macnab in The Independent, and Rolfe Kent's ‘excellent’ score (Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times) maintains the suspense.

Philip Kemp described it in Sight & Sound as reminiscent of the 1950s movies of Douglas Sirk, which included titles such as The Tarnished Angels (1957), starring Rock Hudson. These, too, often featured people coping with constraints imposed by society, were implicitly critical of the social conformity of the time and, first and foremost, were melodramas. ‘Like Sirk at his best, Reitman plays on the emotion while guarding it from brimming over into excess.’

 
Pro-files

Labor Day

 
Cinemas

Labor Day

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