Movie Review: Labor Day
In Labor Day one fateful weekend an escaped prisoner walks into the lives of a single mom and her tween son and turns them completely upside down. Henry (Gattlin Griffith) spends a lot of time doing all he can for his mom Adele (Kate Winslet). His parents are divorced and his dad now lives with his new wife, stepson and new baby girl. After multiple requests its clear the son feels he can’t abandon his mother and would do anything to save her from the grips of depression. When Henry and Adele are shopping for new clothes for Henry, Frank (Josh Brolin) scares his way into their car and home. Frank’s original plan is to hide in their home until a train comes by then he plans to leave with it being Labor Day the trains have stopped running and he’s stuck there, recovering from surgery and hiding from the police that have surrounded the exits to the town.
There’s a title card to tell you what day it is when you see the moments in the film it definitely feels like it spans much longer. On the first day Frank casually ties up Adele then proceeds to make dinner and feed her. There’s a lot of focus on how Frank treats Adele with care. Tobey Maguire narrates the story as the adult Henry. While we see most of the actions he explains things like when Frank gets up the next morning he does the maintenance on Adele’s station wagon, repairs the fence and retaining walls. Frank and Adele become rather close, he’s helpful, caring and gentle. We also get flashbacks into Frank’s past as a clue to why he’s in prison. We see him fall in love with a woman and leave for the military but everything is different once he returns. It takes a while for the big reveal of Frank’s crimes, they try to paint a picture of what drove him to the murder which seems a bit unnecessary when you realize it was accidental. Labor Day takes great pains to show Frank as a great guy beyond what he does for Adele in bringing her out of her depression. When a neighbor Evelyn (Brooke Smith) drops off her mentally and physically disabled son for the day without warning, Frank is extra nice and caring to him. When the boy tries to tell his mother that the fugitive on the TV is his new friend her reaction to get him to stop startles not only Adele and Henry but the entire theater gasped.
Labor Day in little ways focuses on Adele depression in fact, the movie does a lot of slow reveals. We see Adele’s crippling fear to even leave her home, Henry steers her around other landmines, you don’t know if its young brides or happy couples, talking to people who know her or what. We get a few flashbacks to when she was still married and happy. The bigger surprise is the film waits until its halfway over to explain Adele’s depression and her hand shaking. This film needs to come with a trigger warning so I’m purposefully spoiling this. Adele had multiple miscarriages after the birth of Henry and her last resulted in a stillborn. At that point her marriage fell apart and her husband Gerald left her by his own admission not because he’d loved someone else but he cause he wanted a sense of normalcy. He couldn’t pull her out of a depression so he went to someone that could give him a normal standard family. Clark Gregg has more screen time in the 2nd half of the film. He spends a lot of time trying to be there for Henry whom he sees on Sundays but when he finally opens up about the end of his marriage its rather good.
Eventually because of the growing familiarity between Frank and Adele they decide to run away together. Henry is coming with them but before they can get away random circumstances result in a police escort home for Henry by Dawson himself James Van Der Beek for all of 7 minutes as a local police officer, and then its all over for them. We fast forward thru Henry’s teen years and then to his adult life.
Labor Day is a touching tail but it takes the long way round to explain everyone’s past. This is the one issue I find fault with. So much more could be explained faster to get to where you want it to be. Knowing why Adele is depressed and afraid to leave her home would have sped up your sympathy for her. We already care about her but it didn’t need to take so long. As for Frank, we see his journey and it takes a very long time to find out the nature of his crime. If we knew about it in the beginning and seen his path to it it would have had a greater impact. Instead it feels like they realized they haven’t gotten to it yet and needed to sum it up. When you have a movie that incorporates flashbacks there’s a level at which you need to finally wrap it up sooner rather than later and that’s where Labor Day fails in an otherwise good but not great movie.
My Rating: Matinee
Director: Jason Reitman
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: January 31, 2014
Run time: 111 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13