Synopsis: 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.
Stars: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tom Lipinski, Clark Gregg, Alexie Gilmore, Lucas Hedges, Brighid Fleming, James Van Der Beek, Maika Monroe, Brooke Smith, Micah Fowler, Tobey Maguire
Director: Jason Reitman
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: I have this nagging feeling that I’m going to be one of the very few people that likes Labor Day, Jason Reitman’s adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s 2009 novel. I’ve had time to think about the film a lot over the last few weeks since I attended a screening with the author present. While I enjoyed the film when I saw it, I was wondering if the author’s buoyant personality in the Q&A after colored some of my judgment. I gotta say…after some deep soul searching my opinion stands. I liked Labor Day… I liked it a lot.
Though the trailer suggests Labor Day fits on the same golden hued shelf as countless film adaptations of those saccharine Nicholas Sparks books, rest assured that it’s so much more than that. Reitman has become one of my very favorite filmmakers and I don’t believe he’s made a movie yet that I don’t have a high level of respect for…even Juno, which I caught part of recently and for the record does not hold up as well as I remembered.
I hold steady that Up in the Air is his best film but there’s signs here of a maturing director that doesn’t feel the need to make the same film repeatedly just because he found favor there before. I’m in the camp that feels Young Adult was one of the under appreciated gems of 2011, navigating its pitch black comedic moments with ease and leading up to a less than satisfying resolution for our anti-heroine that was incredibly satisfying for the viewer.
That same against the grain approach Reitman has employed in previous efforts is true here with the director taking responsibility for adapting Maynard’s work for the screen. As has been the case with every Reitman film, his taste in casting is impeccable. From the A list stars above the title down to the extras populating the background Reitman finds himself in a league with directors like Steven Soderbergh and David Fincher who have an eye for casting.
Reitman wanted Kate Winslet (Carnage) for this role so badly that he delayed production of the film to accommodate her schedule. Back on screen after nearly two years, Winslet reminds us again why she’s so valuable an asset to any film set she joins. In similar territory to her work in 2006’s Little Children, Winslet is a mother struggling with depression years after her husband (Clark Gregg, The To-Do List) left her to start a new life. Living with her son (Gattlin Griffith) in the kind of New England home that’s too run down to be fancy but too well kept to be ramshackle, she rarely ventures outside, preferring to shut the world out and stay cocooned within.
Relative newcomer Griffith is remarkably assured and Winslet helps him avoid coming off with a misplaced hyper-sensitivity to the situation. When an escaped convict (Josh Brolin, Oldboy) takes mother and son hostage during a once in a blue moon trip to the supermarket, a carefully played trio of agendas start to take shape over a hot and sticky Labor Day weekend in 1987.
Brolin’s character is wounded physically and emotionally, jailed for a crime of passion we see played out in brief flashbacks that reveal themselves cautiously rather than tease for show. Coming off like a gentle giant rarely threatening, Brolin’s actions over the next several days are certainly unconventional as he helps around the house, fixes what was once broken, and, in a scene bound to be lampooned in the next Scary Movie entry, helps Winslet and Griffth make a peach pie.
Ah…the peach pie scene. Y’know, I went into the movie with no knowledge of this but so many of the reviews are either deriding it as exceedingly syrupy or praising it as one of the sexier non sex scenes since Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze made a muddy mess at their Ghost pottery wheel. Either way you’ll be licking your lips at how deliciously cinematographer Eric Steelberg (Draft Day) captures every flake of crust and piping hot filling.
Aside from the central trio, Gregg’s fatherly once a week outings with his son and new family have that forced happiness feel to them that we actually understand why Griffith can’t wait to get back to the man on the run playing house with his mom. Brooke Adams has a nice little cameo as a mother to a disabled boy…and leaves a lasting impression with a genuinely startling surprise. Even if she comes off like a character out of Diablo Cody’s imagination, Brighid Fleming’s turn as the new girl in town leaves you wanting more. Heck, even James Van Der Beek gets a few good moments as a concerned sheriff.
In the stifling heat of a long Labor Day weekend (everyone maintains a glistening gleam of sweat for the majority of the film), three people form the kind of family environment they never knew they needed. Sure, the final third of the film withers a bit and lingers a tad too long but it doesn’t die on the vine. With a director now fully coming into his own leading a cast of esteem, Labor Day has even-keeled fireworks on display.