Review: Labor Day


Whenever I hear mention of writer/director Jason Reitman's work, I instantly think of this formula: awkward, lonely lead character + quirky and slightly unrealistic story premise = a somewhat enduring dramady of a film. When I saw the opening credits for Labor Day, I actually let out some bizarre open-mouthed gasp because I didn't realize he had written and directed it -- I'd clearly done my research in advance.

I was waiting to meet the outspoken lead, the one who is cool on the outside but incredibly lost and confused on the inside. It was a great surprise to instead encounter Adele (Kate Winslet), a single mother trying to raise her 13-year-old son Henry (Gattlin Griffith). We meet these two some years after Henry's father has left them, trying to cope with Adele's social anxiety and fear of the outside world. Henry feels the burden of being the only man in the house, trying to fill a gap he knows cannot be filled.  A monthly trip to the grocery store seems to be routine -- that is, until an escaped convict named Frank (Josh Brolin) comes along.

In what appears to be a hostage situation, Frank forces Adele and Henry to take him home. He's injured, and needs a place to rest his leg until nightfall. The two quickly discover that Frank is not the animal the media is making him out to be, but rather a decent, kind man. He begins to help out around the house, teaches Henry to play baseball, and even shows Adele how to make a peach pie. In just a short amount of time, the three of them become a stronger family unit that Adele and Henry thought was almost nonexistent. Time is running out for Frank, though, as the police are onto his whereabouts, leaving the three to decide what the next step is in staying together.

Perhaps the biggest flaw with Labor Day is the lack of a strong main character. The story is told through voiceover from a now-adult Henry (voiced by Tobey Maguire), but the narrative seems to put Adele in the spotlight more often than not. Winslet delivers an impeccable performance in this film, so subtle and quiet in her depression that you feel your own heart open up with hers once she finds happiness in her life.  

Flaws aside, it was clear that Brolin, Winslet and Griffith shared a wealth of emotion that most directors can only dream of getting out of their actors. I commend Mr. Reitman for his direction of this movie, and was happy to have a break from the typical formula I often associate him with. I hope he continues to bring more stories like Labor Day to life on the screen.