Labor Day Movie Review
Set in a small rural town, LABOR DAY takes place over a five day stretch in 1987. When 13-year-old Henry Wheeler and his divorcee mother, Adele Wheeler, head to the local shopping mart, a strange man wearing a blood stained shirt approaches and quietly but forcefully insists that they take him home with them. The man is Frank Chambers, an escaped convict who uses the family as a hideout. But things aren’t quite as they seem, as Frank proves to be quite the handyman and fatherly figure. Frank’s kidnapping antics, are only in place to clear Adele and Henry from any charges for aiding a criminal. What began as a manipulation to escape the law, quickly becomes a deep romantic connection as an unlikely family.
Based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, LABOR DAY was originally meant for an Award season contender. With gifted stars Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin as the leads, who’s to guess otherwise? While the film missed the mark as being one of the year’s best, LABOR DAY is still a very capable and effective romantic drama.
Written and directed by Jason Reitman, whose resume includes THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, JUNO, UP IN THE AIR and YOUNG ADULT, LABOR DAY is another successful achievement. Scaling back on the observational humor that his film’s are accustomed to, LABOR DAY is a different style focusing on the drama. But there are plenty of sweet moments that will have you smiling ear to ear. Like Reitman’s other films, the movie is still flawed; the flashbacks, while impactful, sometimes feel misplaced. Certain common sense logistics may have one scratching their head, but no more than any romance that can easily be excused by the power of fear and love.
A plethora of recognizable names like James Van Der Beek, J.K. Simmons and Clark Gregg show up for some solid supporting work. Tobey Maguire makes a short appearance as an older Henry, but much like his work in last year’s THE GREAT GATSBY, I found his voice over work a distraction. I was thankful, it was mostly abandoned after the opening of the film. Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin and even young Gattlin Griffith are perfect in their roles. Brolin’s character is particularly sympathetic, making household chores and pie baking appear as miracles sent from God. He makes me want to be a better man.
I can see how some cynics may find the story a bit melodramatic, but I was totally on board. The gradual pace and fantastic performances from Brolin, Winslet and Griffith, sell the drama and romance in a believably pure way that would otherwise probably be improbable. Full of sadness and joy, LABOR DAY is an emotional film that will have you grabbing for the nearest tissue. If not, I guarantee you will be grabbing for a piece of pie.