Depressed single mom Adele and her son Henry offer a wounded, fearsome man a ride. As police search town for the escaped convict, the mother and son gradually learn his true story as their options become increasingly limited.
A depressed mother's husband has left her for she could not bear a second child. Living alone with her only son, she has an unlikely meeting with an injured escaped convict, and reluctantly takes him into her own care. The man proves to be better than his criminal image as the three bond over Labor Day weekend. The only problem? Everyone in town is looking for him.
Despite dips into sentimentality, Labor Day is tender and heartbreaking.
I loved the Labor Day script. I read it a few months ago and while I had doubts about the concept and Jason Reitman at first, it ended up winning me over within pages. Maybe it's because it was written with such wit and tenderness, but it's a human story that truly flows with the emotion delivering the images and intimacy required to express its ideas, dancing just above sentimentality. Although its story is slight, it was satisfying and very rich, taking a situation I'm surprised it hasn't been explored in a more popular film and hitting major themes of family structures and cycles of life. It truly disappoints me to hear that people are not only disliking it, but hating it. It feels like it's being approached from the worst perspective, bracing themselves to cringe. I'm not exactly a Reitman fan either. I think Juno is terrible and it took a rewatch to fall in love with Up In The Air after thinking it was mediocre the first time.
While Labor Day may be far from Reitman's regular tone, in execution it instead highlights his style of energetic and creative cinematography and editing. Like the effect of the script, you can feel the heat and taste the food. Surprisingly, as it's a particularly challenging role given that these types of performances usually struggle, our kid protagonist Gattlin Griffith holds his own among the cast. Kate Winslet is reliably great. These characters seem to be her comfort zone and she's certainly perfected her craft, but we don't often enter her headspace. However, the real standout is Josh Brolin. His performance is the epitome of less-is-more and sells his complex character perfectly. Sinister and cold, yet deep and sensual. The idea that he's doing all the mundane things he hasn't been able to do in decades brings simple delights. It's the measured moments where he cracks that show the breadth of his performance as he breaks down the stereotype of a convict.
Unfortunately, some characters don't work very well, such as kid actors Barry and Eleanor who don't have the conviction to make their scenes work. The flashbacks to Frank's past don't have the same effect as the script despite the eerily similar looking young actor, as they're more confusing than clarifying. Contrary to common complaint, this is not like a lifetime movie. I happened to have watched some recently and they're more concerned with twists and insanity, instead Labor Day is closer to a 1950s domestic melodrama. Think more Far From Heaven than anything. I have a little bias as to how much I like this film, but I walked into the script blind too. Though it need not have had the orchestra swell during the on-the-nose summary lines about what the film's events mean to the characters, Labor Day's emotional punch of two souls bonded by tragic pasts still breaks my heart. I'm just glad Tobey Maguire helped rather than hurt.
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