Film Review: Labor Day

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Labor Day has the potential to please in so many ways and yet it misses the mark. Director Jason Reitman has not quite made up his mind which topic he would like to tackle in this film. The end result leaves Labor Day floating somewhere between the realm of romance and coming of age.

The characters are supplied with a variety of issues and detailed histories. Adele (Kate Winslet) is a single mother living with depression and agoraphobia. Her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) attempts to fill the void in his mother’s life by playing surrogate husband. Henry is also of an age where he is discovering his own sexuality while dealing with abandonment issues. The pair live in relative isolation from their local community as a result of Adele’s illnesses.

On a rare shopping excursion, just before Labor Day, Frank (Josh Brolin) forces himself upon Adele and Henry.  Insisting that they help him and take him to their home. Frank has escaped from prison where he is serving a sentence for murder.

When dealt with in pages of Joyce Maynard’s novel these characters are given the space to unfold and develop. Reitman’s brush strokes lack the subtlety and delicacy of the human condition creating caricatures of Adele, Henry and Frank.

Labor Day unfolds through the reflections and narration of an adult Henry (Tobey Maguire). Our narrator explains that Adele’s problems are a result of a broken heart, ‘I don’t think losing my father broke my mother’s heart but rather losing love itself.’

Frank boldly strides into Adele and Henry’s lives an unlikely hero. In a wooden, overly macho performance, Frank becomes the Band-Aid to all of Adele and Henrys problems. Adele briefly doubts Franks intentions toward her and her son and is told, ‘I’ve never intentionally hurt anyone in my life.’ Frank is drawn so simply that we are never permitted the pleasure of trying to figure him out and must accept him on face value.

Frank immediately becomes the salvation that everyone needs: Adele’s lover, psychiatrist, handyman and Henry’s father. There is little chemistry on screen between Winslet and Brolin. A ridiculously implausible and unintentionally comical pie-making scene, reminiscent of the potters’ wheel scene from Ghost (without the great music or passion), cements Adele and Frank’s love for one another.

This film does not send the audience on an emotional journey. Tension should be readily present in Labor Day. Hiding a fugitive wanted for murder sets the scene for many anxious moments. In spite of building to crescendos and the use of ear piercing ringing when the characters are under pressure we fail to really worry about the end result.

There are some nice moments in Labor Day. It is visually attractive. Adele and Frank’s characters unfold through a series of well-executed flashbacks. Despite the success of these flashbacks our interest in the pairs past remains minimal because we are not truly invested in the characters. Much needed comic relief comes in the form of a young love interest of Henry’s and in his awkward weekly dinners with his real father and stepfamily.

The film opens with slow winding shots. The camera passes pretty yet nondescript scenery. There is no ultimate destination. This imagery sets the tone for the entire film. There is nothing objectionable about Labor Day and the actor’s performances are far from terrible. Winslet, Brolin and Griffith offer some genuinely pleasing moments. Where Labor Day fails is in its ability to achieve investment in the characters and the story. After suggesting that it will be a story about love, betrayal, coming of age and depression it somehow skims through all of these things and falls underwhelming flat.


Labor Day opens Thursday, 6th February.


Directed by: Jason Reitman
Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Tobey Maguire
Distributed by: Paramount
Running time: 111 minutes


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