Single mum Adele (Kate Winslet) and her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) encounter Frank (Josh Brolin), a dangerous convict who has escaped from prison, while they are doing their weekly grocery shopping. Frank demands they take him to their home, and as he holds them over a long weekend, they discover that the wanted man may not be as dangerous as they thought.
Director Jason Reitman has made some sensitive, funny and thought provoking films throughout his career, from Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air to Juno and Young Adult. It seems, however, that with Labor Day, Reitman has lost his touch for nuance and balance and has dived straight into a world of sentimentalism and cliché.
Kate Winslet does what she can with the anxious and heartbroken Adele, but in the end, she is playing a character who is so desperate for love and acceptance that she falls in love with the first person to show her a tiny bit of attention, and is willing to give up everything she has for this. Winslet is fine, but the character arc is too fast for the audience to believe in her and, even though we learn a lot about the character’s background, it is difficult to empathise with her at times. Josh Brolin plays Frank as a good man done wrong, and makes the character sweet and warm, but again the character suffers from a speeded up arc and development.
Gattlin Griffith has surprisingly little to do as Henry, other than be the eyes that the story is told through. There are some tense moments as Henry fears that he is suddenly losing Frank’s affection, but these never really lead anywhere in particular. JK Simmons, Tobey Maguire, Clark Gregg and James Van Der Beek turn up in the supporting cast.
The story, based on Joyce Maynard’s novel really does a disservice to women; Adele falls in love with Frank so fast that surely the story of their falling out of love while on the run would have been the more interesting story. The love story also serves to make the characters feel weak, and never really allows the audience to identify with them, even though their background is told in almost meticulous detail. Another curious facet of the film is the fact that the story seems to be told through Henry’s eyes, yet the audience is given flashbacks through the adults’ eyes, leaving the narrative and through lines of the film feeling garbled and jumbled. The sentimentality piled on top of this young boy searching for a father figure so he can be a the child that he is dulls any impact or message that the film may have had.
Labor Day is an over sentimentalised, saccharine sweet predictable film that shows women in a surprisingly poor light. None of the cast really shines through in this mediocre story and Jason Reitman’s trademark subtlety and astute observational skills are nowhere to be seen here, leaving Labor Day feeling laboured and drawn out.