Dr. Donna Copeland’s
Labor Day is about an escaped convict in a store coercing a woman with a 13 year-old son to take him to her house. For various reasons, he ends up remaining there over the holiday weekend, and of course they have a number of visitors and close calls because the escape is all over the news. As the three get more acquainted, the situation becomes more and more complex, making one wonder how they will get through it, which is the crux of the story.
After seeing this film, my primary question is how such an implausible script could attract actors of the calibre of Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin to star. The plot is so thin and riddled with holes and implausibilities, the viewer has to fight the urge to yell out, “Oh, come on!” Right from the beginning, I could not believe an adult woman could be conned so easily into endangering hers and her son’s lives by allowing a stranger to get in her car and take him to her house. There are any number of things she could do, such as drive to the police station. And how is it that the man would risk there not being a husband at home? That kind of scenario is repeated over and over throughout the tale. The filmmakers tried to cover it up a bit by presenting Adele (Winslet) as a nervous agoraphobic who is too “disturbed” to take any action, but she is savvy enough to recognize, when Frank (Brolin) is appealing to her son as a father figure, to speak to him about it.
Regarding the escapee, Frank, how often do you suppose that a convicted murderer could fit in so easily so soon, and be a model of manhood? I daresay almost never, except perhaps the man in a recent documentary, Michael Morton (An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story), who was wrongfully convicted. But that type of person is not likely to try to escape prison unlawfully.
The child playing the role of young Henry, Gattlin Griffith, is very talented and gives a nuanced performance, but still another implausibility is the character being presented as not fully comprehending the seriousness of the situation and making some mistakes. I could believe it in a five-year old, but not someone who is 13 and has his wits about him, as Henry does.
The film, directed by Jason Reitman, somehow manages to hold the audience’s attention, but I’ve decided that is simply because Winslet and Brolin—and even Griffith—are such good actors, and perhaps because one really does wonder how the filmmakers will resolve such an improbable situation.
Grade: C- By Donna R. Copeland
KATE WINSLET JOSH BROLIN
Josh Brolin and Jason Reitman might not be the two males that come to mind when you think of romance, but in the new film Labor Day they deliver a surprising result. Oscar winner Kate Winslet (The Reader) was even nominated at the Golden Globes for her performance here, but Labor Day flip-flopped on its release, eventually delaying outside of the 2013 awards race and settling for a pre-Valentines date at the end of January. Written for the screen and directed by Oscar winner Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air), suspense and romance are intertwined like I hadn’t seen before. With notes from Clint Eastwood’s Bridges of Madison County, Labor Day is an unforgettable, heart touching story that will rise above anything mainstream Hollywood rolls out for the holiday.
Henry (Gatlin Griffith) is about to start 7th grade, but the last few years at home with his severely depressed and withdrawn mother Adele (Winslet) has him wondering if he will ever be able to stop worrying about her being on her own. They have a simple life together in a sleepy town set back in the forest of New Hampshire. A monthly trip to the savings store gets them more than just basic essentials. Frank (Brolin), having escaped prison and in need of medical attention, insists that he accompany them home. After he establishes no harmful intent towards the mother and son by cooking, repairing their car and doing husband and fatherly chores around the house, he gives them both what has been missing from their lives.
More than just about romantic involvement, Labor Day is about “hunger for the human touch”, as Winslet’s character vividly describes it. Frank is like a missing link for this boy and woman; the batteries, if you will, to their stale lives. There is a beautiful scene as the family plays baseball together outside in the beautiful summer weather where Henry and Adele simply look up at the breeze running through the trees as if they had never noticed the enjoyment of their backyard, but because of Frank they were outside. The defining scene of the film takes place in the kitchen, where they all make a peach pie together and it’s as sensual and erotic for Adele as it is life changing for Henry.
Reitman’s beautiful production quality, especially the glow of the natural sunlight in the cinematography and constant lens flare feel as if he is trying to pull every ounce of description included in Joyce Maynard’s novel. Set in the late 80’s, the entire story presents the idea of how one person, in a few days, can alter the course of two people’s lives. It speaks about the importance of a strong father figure, the necessity of human intimacy and basic human compassion. All three characters are in a fragile state, so much that in many scenes where Adele has her head on Frank’s shoulders we feel as if one wrong word or slight movement might disrupt the entire delicate situation. Brolin gives one of his best performances here, and Griffith is a revelation.
Final Thought – A stunning film about fatherhood and redemption.
By: Dustin Chase