Review: Labor Day
Josh Brolin has a presence to himself unlike any other. When we first meet his Frank in Jason Reitman’s focused, atmospheric, yet contrived family drama, he is a disheveled, imposing figure with tempered speech, one part desperation, one part determination.
Frank needs help: his in physical pain (not to mention some demons within that he carries around) and on the run from the police. The first 25 minutes are tense, though it helps if you know nothing of what is to later unfold. He meets 13-year-old Henry at a local department store, asking, or rather telling him, that Henry and his shy mother need to take him in.
It may be that Frank is simpler than he initially appears as his wild eyes start to soften, and he isn’t the aggressive, brooding figure he comes across as.
Adele (Kate Winslet), for her part, may instead be more complex, if not very familiar. A reclusive divorced mother full of nerves, she has protective and precocious son. Adele reluctantly takes in Frank, and so begins this intimate and not especially compelling drama that spans six days in 1980s New England.
Director Jason Reitman focuses on the budding relationship between the three, one that slowly but surely (and easily) evolves from fear and distrust to warmth and affection. It teasingly steps into the past, slowly peeling back layers to their respective stories.
As he bides time, Frank fills a void in his life, assuming roles of a husband and father, in turn filling a space for Adele and Henry. Tension comes in waves, and while some of the themes are familiar, Reitman handles them with beauty. Brolin and Winslet both make for sympathetic screen presences, even if the latter seems stuck in these drabby, insecure roles.
You do immediately care about both, and Henry too, the idealistic and watchful boy from whose perspective the story is told. Though it’s a lot less likely you will care as much about their fate by the end, as however pretty and nostalgic this tale may be, there is little interesting under the surface.
This film is slower, more seeped than Reitman’s other works, and not especially novel. The ending too, really pours on the melodrama, as the last ten minutes are not only questionable, but entirely superfluous. As it were, it may be inevitable that ‘Labor Day,’ because of one succulent scene, is remembered for its peach pie and nothing else.