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Blu-ray Review: Labor Day

When Labor Day premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, both audiences and critics adored it; but when released theatrically months later, people seemed to turn their backs on the film, and scathing reviews began to surface. Labor Day isn’t a necessarily a bad film, the first act in particular is excellent, but ultimately the film nearly fails due to being too melodramatic for today’s audiences.

The film stars Kate Winslet as Adele, a reclusive, single mother trying to raise her son Henry (newcomer Gattlin Griffith). One afternoon, on one of Adele’s rare trips outside the house, the pair are approached by Frank (Josh Brolin), a bleeding and disheveled man who demands that the two bring them back to his house.

Had Labor Day been released in the 1950s, starring say, Joan Crawford or Bette Davis, surely everyone would have loved it. Today’s audiences just really aren’t into the kind of sappy melodrama that Labor Day presents. To understand the praise the film received when it premiered at TIFF, one must realize that at that time no one knew that they would be watching a romance. There was no trailer or even a poster. All that was released was a short synopsis offered, similar the one above, which made the film sound as it were a thriller; and it does play as a thriller for the first thirty-minutes. To see the hostage situation bloom into a romance was at the time quite unexpected. Now, the film is being advertised on posters and the DVD cover as “A romance to root for.” This completely ruins the element of surprise that initially made the film so great. Then again, the film is worth watching just for the scene where Frank teaches Henry and April how to make peach pie.

Recently released on DVD and Blu-ray, Labor Day doesn’t really hold up on multiple viewings. Though if one does insist in buying it, here are some pretty good special features they can look forward to:

End of Summer: Making Labor Day
This isn’t the usual short making of bit, it’s actually quite interesting. Timing in at just over thirty-minutes, this making of offers interviews with the cast, director Jason Reitman, and novelist Joyce Maynard. Reitman’s directorial style is explored in depth, as well as Maynard’s inspiration for the story.

Deleted Scenes
Ten minutes of scenes that really didn’t belong in the film. Only thing you’ll get from watching these is an extended lesson from Josh Brolin on cutting biscuits.

Commentary by writer/director Jason Reitman, director of photography Eric Steelberg, and first assistant director/co-producer Jason Blumenfeld. Reitman is the one talking for most of the commentary and we do learn a decent amount about the making of the film. The best parts of the commentary are those when the group talks about the cooking in the film, specifically Josh Brolin making pies every single day. As far as commentaries go, this one is actually pretty good.

Matt Hoffman

Matthew Hoffman is a Toronto-based cinephile who especially enjoys French films and actresses over the age of 50; including but not limited to: Isabelle Huppert, Meryl Streep, and Jacki Weaver.