Rated: PG-13 for thematic material, brief violence and sexuality. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: December 13, 2013 Released by: Paramount Pictures Corporation
Jason Reitman takes an about-face from his Young Adult into more deliberate melodramatic territory in working off of Joyce Maynard's New Hampshire-set 2009 novel which will require some to suspend their disbelief. Even an overly stolid Tobey Maguire (The Great Gatsby 2013) offers some narration to a grown-up character in pursuit of his dreams.
A well-calibrated, small-scaled Labor Day which stays in New England, but in the Bay State (with places like Boston, Concord, Salem, Belchertown, and Shelburne included in the shoot) also turns out to be part coming-of-age, as well as an oddly affecting, and later, taut, romantic thriller. One that many have and may compare to a lesser known Clint Eastwood picture from a couple of decades ago starring Kevin Costner, A Perfect World.
Golden-Globe nominee Kate Winslet again proves why she's one of the best British actresses of her generation as the socially withering single mother Adele to her seventh-grade 12-year-old protective son Henry (Gattlin Griffith). Their unhappy milieu changes when at the local Pricemarket for some shopping by an interloper who happens to be an escaped convict for murder.
Josh Brolin's Frank is wounded and has them hide him at their house to rest. However, when he informs them about being on the lam, they must be tied up so the pursuing authorities can be told that he kidnapped them. Reitman's adaptation of an emotionally fragile woman and vulnerable son turns out to be less obvious and sentimental than expected as it unfolds over the long eponymous weekend. One where the assured filmmaking and storytelling values the changing interaction between Adele, Henry, and Frank, the latter of which has an unexpected influence on his hosts.
Frank has a menacing side, but exhibits much warmth at least from the start as he feeds a bonded Adele some chili. She begins to have feelings she hasn't had in a while from the loss of love in her life. Henry is bonding himself with a girl his age (a nice Brighid Fleming) and gets some support from Frank when it comes to learning about baseball or babysitting a developmentally challenged friend. Griffith strikes all the right notes when it comes to such a transitional period in a boy's life. He also feels their halcyon threatened as mom isn't alone in her bed after a couple of days. An unsettling thread permeates a rather measured, low-key mood when it comes to townsfolk who could be on to what's coming over Adele.
The chemistry between a poignantly nuanced Winslet and Brolin (more charming here than the convoluted Spike Lee revenge yarn Oldboy) is engaging, especially in an oddly surprising scene (that some will compare to Ghost) where Frank shares his baking expertise with Adele in making peach pie from scratch. What Reitman insinuates through what his flawed, needy characters experience with Tom Lipinski is a very convincing younger Frank (kudos to the casting) in flashbacks helps to sharply round out what finally turns out to be edgy and heartbreaking. Like the Southern-set Eastwood drama, Labor Day might have slim chances at the box-office, but with very creditable, committed acting (even in support by Clark Gregg as Henry's nearby, remarried father) it has the kind of cinematic aroma and dramatic texture that makes one believe Frank is really good in the kitchen.