Friday, January 31, 2014

Film Review: Labor Day

Director: Jason Reitman
Writers: Jason Reitman (screenplay), Joyce Maynard (based on the novel by)
Featuring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith

Review by Allan Tong

It's a long summer weekend in New England in 1987, but Adele (Kate Winslet) wouldn't know.  Long depressed by the break-up of her marriage, she stays inside while her adolescent son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) runs errands.  Once in a while Adele steps out, like shopping at a department store with Henry at the start of the Labor Day weekend.  And that's where her life changes.

Frank (John Brolin) coerces Adele and Henry into hiding him in their house where he can lay low until the coast is clear.  Frank was having a routine operation when he fled the hospital--and a prison term for murder.  Over the long weekend, Frank teaches Adele and Henry to bake a peach pie.  He fixes the car.  Even plays baseball with them and the neighbour's kid.  He never raises his voice.  Gentle and calm.  Adele is a wounded romantic and falls for Frank.  In fact, Frank doesn't seduce Adele. Their love just blossoms.

Meanwhile, the police are always prowling and neighbours are barging in without knocking (this is a small town, remember) which adds suspense. Also, the flashbacks to Frank's murder and Adele's break-up with her ex-husband inject a layer of hard drama that prevents Labor Day from melting into sentimentality.

Henry's voice-over throughout adds lyricism to the film.  However, a subplot involving his first kiss doesn't enhance the larger story as it should, and there are other moments that simply stretch credibility.  That said, Labor Day has heart and is beautifully made.  It's a surprising departure from comedy for director Jason Reitman (Juno), and an accomplished dramatic effort. 

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