Labor Day, 2013.
Directed by Jason Reitman.
Starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith and Tobey Maguire.
Escaped prisoner Frank Chambers (Brolin) convinces depressed single mother Adele (Winslet) to
harbour him from the police over Labor Day weekend in this all too sweet drama from Jason Reitman.
Labor Day is a difficult film to review as it was neither phenomenally good nor shockingly bad: it was simply average. Following the story of young teenager Henry (an exceptional performance from young talent Gattlin Griffith) and his depressed mother (Winslet) who are forced to harbour fugitive Frank Chambers (Brolin), Labor Day is an altogether different experience compared to Reitman’s previous films. The film is an uneven drama with moments of brilliance mixed in with oversentimentality that lead it down a strange path. The plot is formulaic and the story unfolds exactly how you would imagine from the initial meeting of Frank and Adele to their inevitable romance. Chambers appears at first as intimidating but he softens so quickly into seemingly the perfect man for Adele. During the Labor Day weekend he fixes their heater, the car, cooks peach pie and so on. But it’s as Frank’s past comes to light that the film begins to get more interesting. However, the main flaw in the film is that Winslet and Brolin lack chemistry and their quick romance over this sun soaked weekend never really convinces. It’s a shame as their separate scenes are engrossing, but together something just doesn’t mesh.
Supporting actors are also under used although this may have been the intention of Reitman to isolate the unconventional threesome. It did leave me wondering why recognisable faces had been cast in such small roles. James van der Beek crops up as a suspicious policeman; JK Simmons has a minute of screen time as a neighbour delivering peaches and so on. Clark Gregg as Henry’s father gets more screen time and a final scene between the two was beautiful to watch. But the focus of this film is the three leads and with such little chemistry between Brolin and Winslet, the film is never going to be a winner.
The film is saved by the performances from Winslet and Griffith. Winslet very rarely disappoints and her portrayal of a lonely single mother is spot on. As the film continues we find out about her heart-breaking miscarriages and how she became this shell of a woman who struggles to get up in the morning. It’s the little things that make her performance so believable, from the tremor in her hands to the fear at trying to leave the car to buy groceries. Adele is a damaged woman and Winslet portrays her expertly.
Tobey Maguire narrates the tale as the older Henry, but this film is entirely based on Gattlin Griffith’s performance. As the main focus of the story he expertly takes the reigns and manoeuvres us through his unsettling world with his mother, his disconnected life from his father and his adolescent pains. He is utterly convincing as a traumatised young child, balancing his childhood innocence with his adult awareness of the situation at hand.
Labor Day is an interesting film to watch but unfortunately it’s instantly forgettable. Gattlin Griffith is definitely a talent to watch and Kate Winslet’s performance is exceptional. The lack of chemistry lets it down massively and its sickly sweet ending will divide audiences. It’s an interesting choice for Reitman to do this kind of film as it lacks the snappy script that we loved in Young Adult, Juno and Thank You for Smoking. Reitman shows us the long winding road to Adele’s house over the initial credits and we feel the oppressive sun pulsing off the screen. What you don’t feel is any sense of connection to the film.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★