Movie Review: Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day”

Article by Christopher Bourne

This is the way Adele (Kate Winslet) and Frank (Josh Brolin) meet in Jason Reitman’s latest film “Labor Day,” based on Joyce Maynard’s novel. Adele’s a single mom dealing with abandonment issues after her husband (Clark Gregg) leaves her to raise her son Henry by herself. (Henry narrates this story, set in 1987). Frank’s just escaped from prison and has just about every police officer in the area on his tail. He convinces her to let him stay at their place, just long enough so that he can find an opportunity to hitch a train ride and get the hell out of Dodge. Frank’s never overtly violent, but he seems capable of violence if you push him too far. So Adele brings him to the house. And Frank tells them he has to tie them up, not because he wants to, but just for appearance’s sake, just in case someone happens to drop by unexpectedly. But he doesn’t leave the next day; he stays, for the entire titular holiday weekend. And oddly, Adele and Henry are just fine with this. Frank fixes stuff around the house, cooks, cleans and bakes a mean peach pie. And soon enough Frank and Adele are sharing a bed, and Frank is teaching Henry the finer points of pitching and batting a baseball, and basically being more of a father to the boy than his real father (who has since remarried, and whom Henry still visits on occasion).

So what’s happening here? Have Adele and Frank really fallen in love, and has Frank truly become a surrogate father to Henry? Or is this all an extreme case of Stockholm syndrome? Or is it all of the above? That this question is never really resolved is one of the great things about “Labor Day,” a function of its richly layered scenario and characterizations. And these qualities are graced by stellar performances by Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, who flawlessly navigate the ambiguities and revelations that come to us via flashbacks interspersed throughout. All of this helps to overcome the massive suspension of disbelief required to buy the idea of this love affair occurring so quickly, over the course of a mere five days.

Jason Reitman is definitely improving with each film he makes; “Thank You for Smoking” was OK, while I mostly have no use for “Juno” (although this is more the fault of Diablo Cody’s reactionary screenplay and insufferable dialog than Reitman’s). But “Up in the Air” was excellent, and “Labor Day” is even better. So far, Reitman seems to have the potential for a long, and great, career.

“Labor Day” opens in theaters for a one-week Oscar qualifying run on Dec. 27, and will have its wide release on Jan 31, 2014.

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