Film Review – Labor Day
Just about everyone has probably seen those TV spots for Labor Day by now. Featuring Rihanna’s “Stay” and showing Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin making a pie together. That’s about all the information I had about the film going into the screening. Is it a love story? Yes, but it is one with a dysfunctional beginning that borders on being classified as Stockholm Syndrome.
Labor Day is based on the novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard. Written for the screen and directed by Jason Reitman (Young Adult, Up in the Air, Juno), it depicts what happens over Labor Day weekend in 1987 to Adele (Kate Winslet) and her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) when they are unwittingly taken hostage by an escaped prisoner, Frank (Josh Brolin), while shopping in a store. While initially terrifying for Adele and Henry, the relationship between them breaks down to a comforting, male presence. Adele is a broken woman. Left by her husband along with fertility issues, she struggles to keep it together. Henry plays the man of the house to his mother except on Sundays when he visits his father. Both come to define Frank as a loving man who could be their path to a more fulfilling, “normal” life.
Director and screenwriter Jason Reitman has taken a genre departure from his previous films. He is taking a risk delving into a dysfunctional romantic story, but I can see the draw to it. The film is rooted in Adele and Henry. It is very much a character study into Adele, her perceived faults and shortcomings. The film is narrated by an older Henry, allowing us some more insight into Adele. It is a film about relationships and what can happen when they all fall apart.
Kate Winslet as Adele is brilliant. Her transition from her being a depressed recluse to a woman fulfilled on the promise of a life of love is gradual. Her hair, makeup, and wardrobe also play an important part in the role. In the beginning, her clothes are frumpy and her hair is unkempt and greasy. When Frank enters their lives, she starts to take more pride in her appearance. Her clothes become more becoming. I can imagine her digging in her closet for a dress she has not worn for ages. Her hair is cleaner and she puts it up. Winslet very much becomes Adele. Her trepidation, sorrow, uneasiness is seen from her words and her actions. She still struggles with herself even when she gives herself over to Frank fully. She is afraid to be left again and not be able to be a full woman. She is not a strong woman character, but that does not make her any less compelling to watch. With Winslet playing Adele the journey is just that much more interesting and detailed.
As soon as Frank enters the picture at the store, you are not sure what to make of him. Is he trustworthy or selfish? Throughout the film, the answer becomes evident. Josh Brolin plays him with an initial gruffness that gradually melts away as he is seen helping around the house and cooking for Adele and Henry. While he never explains his reasons for escaping from prison or what he did to end up there, Jason Reitman interjects Frank’s backstory little by little into the film. Tom Lipinski, a startlingly young Josh Brolin lookalike, plays young Frank and shows the kind of young man he was and what he did. When Henry finally starts to cling on to Frank, looking at him like the father he wished he had, you know Frank will stay around.
Labor Day is not a Nicholas Sparks film and to lump it in with those films is a disservice to Reitman’s work. While it is a romantic film, the acting, character detail, and the bizarre love story sets it apart from others in the same genre. Having seen other less than favorable reviews for Labor Day, I went into the film skeptical, but I came out loving this film. Maybe it is because I am a girl and currently single and damaged, unavailable guys are usually our thing. It is really an unexpected, lovely film that will tug on your heartstrings or question what you would do in the same situation.
As an aside, I would like to point out that the use of a high-pitch tone every time there is a moment of tension is really unnecessary and distracting. And for someone who has tinnitus, it is really unpleasant.