“Labor Day” is one of those movies that either gets you to buy in and play along, or loses you at a crucial moment, earning only your mockery for the rest of its running time.
I understand that urge to mock – and yet I’m not mocking: Jason’ Reitman’s film hooked me. Once those hooks were sunk in deeply enough, it pulled me over all the bumpiest moments, when my sense of disbelief was threatened by a lack of suspension.
Based on a novel by Joyce Maynard, “Labor Day” is a problematic romantic drama with a surprising heart. Thanks to performances by Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet, as well as newcomer Gattlin Griffith, it grabs you in surprising ways, overcoming its own blend of the over-ripe and the sometimes just plain silly. Reitman plays it the only way he can – with a straight face, right over the middle of the plate.
His story is told by an 13-year-old named Henry (Griffith) who, in the late summer of 1987, is living with his divorced, agoraphobic mother Adele (Winslet), in a rundown house in a small town in New Hampshire. He runs the errands and, basically, acts like the man of his house, at least as much as he can. One day, on one of her rare trips to the town’s generic discount box store to buy Henry new school clothes, Adele and Henry are approached by a man, Frank Chambers (Brolin), blood on his shirt, asking for a little help: a ride and a place to clean up.
Adele, of course, wants to say no, but there is an implied threat that the man will harm Henry if she doesn’t drive him away: “Frankly, this needs to happen,” he says urgently.
This review continues on my website.