Labor Day
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith
111 mins; Class12; KRS

Labor Day is an adult romantic drama grounded by a trio of excellent performances from Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin and newcomer Tom Lapinski. It is directed with typical assurance by the versatile Jason Reitman from his script, which he adapted from the novel by Joyce Maynard.

A haggard-looking Winslet is Adele Wheeler, a woman who struggles with life in general and raising her child in particular following her divorce. In fact, it is the wise-beyond-his-13-years Henry who acts more like the parent in the relationship.

One morning, Adele has to reluctantly leave the house to accompany Henry to the mall to buy him stuff as the new school year approaches. There, they are accosted by Frank (Brolin), an injured man who convinces them to take him home with them.

It transpires that Frank is an escaped convict. He coerces Adele into hiding him at home over the Labor Day holiday weekend. The forced cohabitation spawns a surprising but unbreakable bond, leading all three protagonists to evaluate their past lives and look to their futures with new eyes.

The subject matter teeters dangerously on the fine line between poignant and affected. Yet, as the story unfolds it falls solidly in the former camp, as the story is given genuine emotional weight in the hands of Jason Reitman and his cast.

On the surface, the romance that blossoms in Labor Day between two disparate people may seem an unlikely choice for a director whose films all have some sort of edge. Yet, Reitmann strips the story from any unnecessary sentimentality.

That this works is also down to Winslet and Brolin. They certainly share smouldering chemistry, which helps no end, but they also add depth and meaning to roles which in others’ hands could have easily been flat.

That this works is also down to Winslet and Brolin

The ever-reliable Winslet creates in Adele a woman who is broken; who on the surface is a very simple character, yet her wretched façade hides a woman who has not completely given up on life, but who yearns for some happiness to fill the void.

Brolin’s Frank keeps you guessing – he is quiet and intense and while he is doing and saying the right things, you wonder how genuine he really is. The script offers a series of flashbacks to happier times for both Adele and Frank before life got dark. They are very well-judged, never getting in the way of the narrative and servicing the story well.

The young Lapinski more than holds his own opposite his more experienced co-stars, his Henry a wise man in a child’s body, and through whose eyes we see this dramatic and sad story unfold.

My chief gripe with Labor Day is with the ending, which ties things up a little too neatly after telling its story with a modicum of realistic untidiness. Truth be told, however, by then the protagonists have gotten under your skin to the point you can’t begrudge them the little light they see at the end of the tunnel of their dark lives.

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