Synopsis: Labor Day centers on 13-year-old Henry Wheeler, who struggles to be the man of his house and care for his reclusive mother Adele while confronting all the pangs of adolescence. On a back-to-school shopping trip, Henry and his mother encounter Frank Chambers, a man both intimidating and clearly in need of help, who convinces them to take him into their home and later is revealed to be an escaped convict. The events of this long Labor Day weekend will shape them for the rest of their lives.
Release Date: December 25, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Romance, Drama
They say that children of divorce typically form a special bond with one of their parents. Henry, the main character in Labor Day, has developed such a strong bond with his mother Adele (Kate Winslet), a shut-in battling a crippling depression, that he feels like he is all she will ever have. But when escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin) enters their life, Adele soon begins to find herself again and finds love in her unlikely relationship with Frank. It is over the course of Labor Day weekend that Henry, Adele, and Frank develop into the family that all three of them always wanted, while the risk of Frank’s arrest is constantly looming overhead.
On its face, the premise for Labor Day bears some intrigue. There’s a decent amount of tension any time Frank teeters on the brink of capture, and the story’s message about rediscovering love and passion is sweet, but it is in the execution where Labor Day falls apart.
It may be by design, or it may be clunky filmmaking, but whatever the case Labor Day plays like escapist fiction geared towards repressed housewives rather than an emotionally moving drama. The amount of cliche scenes packed into the film, like Frank teaching Henry how to play baseball or the three of them bonding over pie-making, is borderline unbearable. And to be honest, the overall arc for Adele and Frank’s story has more in common with a romance novel than a feature film.
Where the film does something right (for the most part) is in its storytelling. By choosing to tell the story almost exclusively from Henry’s perspective, Labor Day does its best to avoid those romance novel or Lifetime Channel movie comparisons, although they are always present. There are also several moments where the film departs Henry’s POV entirely, which is clunky and confusing. It’s only because Henry is considered our “main character” that Labor Day is able to toe that line between drama and melodrama, but even then it’s hard to shake the feeling that something better could have been made of the story.
Labor Day will strike a chord with some people; it’s certainly a heartfelt and earnest story filled with relatable characters. But those characters’ actions are not anything we’d ever see in real life, and deflate any momentum the film might have built early on. Once the romance kicks in, and the unbelievably handsome Brolin fulfills his role as “Mr. Perfect” (albeit with one tragic flaw), you can’t help but roll your eyes. For a 2-hour distraction, Labor Day is fine, but its aspirations were clearly more than that. This is a case where an overly saccharine touch leads to a movie with little value.
Although the film’s subject matter is something of a miss, the acting in Labor Day, specifically from Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, is solid. Both actors give their all to roles that, while a little obvious and cliche, have some nuance. Winslet plays the shut-in mother extremely well, from her trembling hands to the continuous looks of concern. While Brolin smolders like any convict with a heart of gold should. These are two actors who can make any film, even this one, mildly entertaining, and so for that reason their performances should be commended.
As a pair, however, Winslet and Brolin don’t translate their chemistry as effectively as the story requires. Rather, you believe these two are falling in love simply because they are two good looking people trapped in a house.
Up until this point, Jason Reitman has had a near spotless track record, delivering Oscar nominated films such as Juno and Up in the Air. Unfortunately, Labor Day feels like a complete departure for Reitman, and not in the good way. Sure, there are flashes of his style, specifically in the film’s methodical tracking shots and clean composition, but his editing choices are confusing to say the least.
At several points throughout the film, there are flashbacks to Frank’s life before prison and clues as to how he got there. These flashbacks are meant to inform the present day story and serve as their own little mystery storyline, but they are oftentimes injected into a scene without rhyme or reason. For that matter, the choice of flashbacks to illuminate Frank’s, and eventually Adele’s, past further typify the film’s Lifetime Channel approach, and undermine the idea that this is a story seen through Henry’s eyes. Reitman simply missed the mark here, and despite some flashes of talent, his work on Labor Day is a big disappointment.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Jason Reitman
- Screenwriter(s): Jason Reitman
- Cast: Josh Brolin (Frank)Kate Winslet (Adele)Gattlin Griffith (Henry) Tobey Maguire (Adult Henry)
- Editor(s): Dana E. Glauberman
- Cinematographer: Eric Steelberg
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Rolfe Kent
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA