"}
Film

Labor Day

Love takes a hostage

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Subtract the kidnapping, and Labor Day depicts the most romantic long weekend a divorced hausfrau could hope for, as a swarthy stranger waltzes into her life, passing the time by fixing her car, making pie and teaching her awkward son to play baseball. Factor in the notion that the outsider is an escaped killer, however, and this all-summer-in-a-day story starts to feel as baked as the convict’s peach pies.

Jason Reitman’s passionate fifth feature may leave a significant fraction of its audience in tears as they connect with Kate Winslet’s Adele, a depressed single mother whose pain runs deeper than the film initially lets on. As in Joyce Maynard’s novel, events are told from the perspective of Adele’s 14-year-old son Henry, or “Hank,” played by Gattlin Griffith for most of the picture, which is set on the last weekend of summer 1985, but narrated in the present by Tobey Maguire.

As the voiceover makes clear, Hank was too young to understand his mother’s needs back then, which poses a bit of a problem for Reitman’s approach, since he ultimately wants to be inside Winslet’s head. Indeed, the director, who possesses a good eye for composition and generally sharp instincts with actors, seems to be operating from a place of empathy rather than life experience, drawing attention to the contrivances that Maynard got away with in her novel.

More than once we hear the word “longing” to describe Adele’s state of mind, and there’s a sense that she’s willed prison escapee Frank (Josh Brolin) into existence. Though he was serving 20 years for murder, Frank insists there’s more to the story. Time will tell, though the film dutifully withholds the tragedies these two characters share in common until the end, which makes for a third act even Nicholas Sparks would envy.

In the early going, Reitman struggles to balance the competing feelings the scenario evokes. He can count on Winslet, who has long since mastered the role of affection-starved wife in Little Children and Mildred Pierce, to communicate Adele’s fragility in a matter of a few short scenes, but it’s much harder to accept that a wanted man can be as sensitive as Frank. The film tries to manufacture suspense when Frank first forces his way into their lives, though it can’t afford to make him too scary, lest audiences find him difficult to like. After all, everything hinges on Adele’s willingness to suppress her instincts and shelter this wanted criminal—and for audiences to accept her actions.

Almost immediately, Frank proves himself a better father figure to Hank than Adele’s ex (Clark Gregg) ever was, teaching the boy how to change a tire and sharing other father-son advice Hank needs at his vulnerable age. The part asks a lot of Griffith, who manages to balance the character’s conflicting allegiances—protective of his mother, longing for male approval—without lapsing into precious child-actor mode. In the sweep of Hank’s life, this is the weekend he goes from being a boy to becoming a man, and the movie plants all sorts of foreboding visions to prepare audiences for a worst-case outcome, including the warnings of a brooding teenage friend (Brighid Fleming) who felt pushed aside when her own parents found new adult partners.

Reitman rightly intuits that erotic tension will take the story further than a passionate embrace possibly could, and so he includes charged moments—a steady hand on Adele’s waist, attention paid to a childhood scar, and the hyper-sensual act of laying a pie-crust in place. In one especially nice touch, Hank is playing a videogame in the next room when he catches the reflection of his mother nuzzling Frank in the screen.

Labor Day brims with such carefully observed details, all of them a little too elegant to feel entirely genuine, and yet impossible to fault—apart from the underlying premise, of course, which is plenty troubling: that a misunderstood killer is just the father/lover this incomplete family needs to feel whole again. Still, one has to respect Reitman for tackling a project with such a major inherent hurdle, and there’s no question that this film finds him delving past the ironic veneer of Juno and Young Adult into more sentimental (evoking Clint Eastwood’s The Bridges of Madison County and A Perfect World, in particular).

The mid-’80s period aspects—beautifully rendered in sun-dappled shots that seem to be elegantly tracking in, out, left and right at all times—are so ripe with nostalgia, Labor Day also calls to mind J.J. Abrams’ Super 8, only the characters aren’t junior filmmakers but budding pie-bakers, and rather than aliens, they have a hostage crisis to contend with. To the extent that Adele’s hunger for affection resonates with audiences, what emerges is a powerful—if implausible—romance.

0674-Commodores_770x150-CW
More Film...
London Road
A musical murder mystery

The techniques of verbatim theater go back decades, to at least the 1950s, when young German theater troupes would reenact complicated court cases word for word onstage. Even earlier, in the United States, the WPA paid for a form of this performance with its “Living Newspapers,” in…

more »
The Magnificent Seven
Another day, another remake

The big difference between the new version of The Magnificent Seven and the revered 1960 feature is the ethnic background of the main characters. The titular seven in director Antoine Fuqua’s take are a diverse bunch, while the ruthless villain of the piece is no longer a Mexican bandito…

more »
Bridget Jones’s Baby
Renee gets a rebirth

Hapless London-based media type Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) returns to the big screen after a 12-year break to battle unexpected pregnancy, 20-something hipsters and, once more, the perils of live TV in Bridget Jones’s Baby. With our heroine now a successful single producer in her…

more »
Events
Today
Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

The Happy Elf Auditions

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Making Miso

4:00pm|Skagit Valley Food Co-op

Not If But When

6:00pm|Burlington Public Library

All-Paces Run

6:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

Bingo in Blaine

6:00pm|Blaine Senior Center

Wonton and Char Siu

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Bellingham Reads

6:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Roving Cocktail Party

6:30pm|Gretchen's Kitchen

Eagle Presentation

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Blackfish Prophecy

7:00pm|Village Books

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Beginning Square Dance

7:00pm|Ten Mile Grange

Monastery Talk

7:00pm|Bellingham Shambhala Meditation Center

Artifacts Wine Bar Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Tomorrow
A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bellingham City Club Meeting

11:30am|Northwood Hall

Lynden Book Club

12:30pm|Lynden Library

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Fun with Fermentation

4:00pm|Blaine Library

Ukulele for Everyone

4:00pm|Everson Library

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Bokashi Composting

6:30pm|Cordata Community Food Co-op

Teton Gravity Research's Tight Loose

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Bebel Gilberto

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Bebel Gilberto

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Zoots Side Bar Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Thursday
A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Final After-Hours Market

4:00pm|Depot Market Square

Ensembulele

4:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Autumn Soups

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Tame Your Inner Critic

7:00pm|Village Books

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Looking for Betty MacDonald

7:30pm|Village Books

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

see our complete calendar »

Northwood Steak and Crab Mount Baker Theatre Andrew Subin Swinomish 2016 CW BOB 2016 Artifacts Wine Bar Zoots Side Bar Everybody’s Store Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Bellingham Farmer’s Market Village Books