Surprisingly entertaining drama, albeit formulaic, for this time of year.
Director: Jason Reitman (Up in the Air)
Screenplay: Reitman, based on the novel by Joyce Maynard
Cast: Kate Winslet (Titanic), Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men)
Runtime: 111 min
by John DeSando
“I’m a lot stronger than you think.” “I don’t doubt that.” Adele and Frank.
Director Jason Reitman is no stranger to unusual family stories (Juno) or character drama (Up in the Air), so his enjoyable Labor Day is a bit of both without the humor. Because this is January, a dead-zone time for releases, it’s even more impressive as an audience-pleasing drama about an escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin) and a mother he kidnaps, Adele (Kate Winslet), along with her 7th grade son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith).
Let’s get the formula out now: she falls in love with her captor and the son willingly learns about life and baseball. The real life, however, is hounding them as the law closes in on their 5 days of “family” bliss. However, the authorities are too slow to stop the best family pie making scene ever, domestic stuff just one of charming murderer Frank’s gifts and a Reitman specialty.
Mud is similarly about the coming of age and criminal motif and Revolutionary Road with Winslet about a disintegrating family. Yet Reitman and novelist Joyce Maynard have crafted a story that slowly makes believable the growing love between captive and captor, a relationship helped by the classy acting chops of Winslet and Brolin. Although everyone knows helping an escaped criminal leads to serious jail time, this case actually cuts Adele a great deal of slack in the guilty category. As Reitman slowly reveals their mutually grim backgrounds, we are aware that her needs for the touch of a lover are so acute that even this gamble could be worth the risk.
Although Labor Day comes close to Nicholas Sparks’ sentimental claptrap, Reitman preserves everyone’s dignity, lets love grow, and ushers a kid into a complicated world of love and danger—a labor of love, so to speak, on the film’s titular weekend, typically American and hard work: “I sensed my inadequacy,” says the adult Henry in voiceover. In matters of the heart, we’re all inadequate and need films like Labor Day to help us move on.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com