Release Date: Jan. 31, 2014
Running Time: 111 minutes
Most movie soul mates meet cute. They cross paths on busy New York streets, their best friend’s wedding, or on a train to Vienna. Not Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin) and Adele Wheeler (Kate Winslet), the accidental lovers in director Jason Reitman’s adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s 1980s-set novel Labor Day. OK, Frank and Adele do meet in a small-town supermarket, but it’s only because the escaped murder convict holds hostage the divorced mother’s teenage son Henry, who is played with age-appropriate confusion and angst by Gattlin Griffith. With the cops crawling all over the town, the injured Frank plans to spend the Labor Day weekend at Adele’s house before hopping a train to wherever prison escapees disappear to. Luckily for the emotionally fragile Adele, Frank happens to be nicest convicted murderer you could hide in your house. He’s polite, thoughtful, and handy around the house. Plus, he knows baked goods are a way to a woman’s heart. There’s been much talk about whether the scene during which Frank instructs Adele on how to make the perfect peach pie is as sensual as Patrick Swayze-Demi Moore’s pottery wheel moment in Ghost. It’s not, but that’s beside the point. Adele literally melts in front of us as she watches Frank work his magic. It’s at this point that we know Adele will fall hard for Frank. Is she really in love? Or is she suffering from Stockholm syndrome? That’s the question that drives Labor Dayas Frank and Adele play happy couple over the course of the long holiday weekend. Reitman reveals why Frank ended up in prison through flashbacks over the course of Labor Day. This is a choice designed to manipulate audiences into accepting Frank as a kindhearted, misunderstood man who deserves a second chance. Brolin helps Reitman advance his cause by smoothing out Frank’s rough edges with his comforting demeanor and a selflessness that quickly bubbles to the surface after he initially barges into Adele and Henry’s unremarkable lives. Once Reitman reveals the sad truth about Frank, it does cloud how we view his relationship with Adele and whether he deserves her. Unfortunately, Labor Day positions Adele as a woman who is solely defined by her relationship to the men in her life. Traumatized by her divorce, Adele essentially has stopped living for herself. She’s a shell of herself at the start of Labor Day, and as she grows fonder of Frank, she slowly becomes the woman she once was or we imagine she could be. Still, the sense of desperation that informs Winslet’s performance suggests that Labor Day is presenting Adele with an ultimatum: love Frank or never love again. It’s sad to think that Labor Day thinks so little of Adele—a woman whose crippling depression prevents her from being the mother Henry needs—that it believes the best she can do when it comes to love is a man who is responsible for the two deaths. There’s never a time in Labor Day when Adele’s allowed to stop in her tracks, think clearly about what’s doing, and questions the possible consequences of her past and future actions. Labor Day sends the distressing message that a woman must settle when it comes to love. One wonders how different Adele would perceive Frank had she known from the start about the moment of anger that led to his murder conviction. We probably would be spared the embarrassing and unnecessary coda that’s set several decades after the events in Adele’s house. For all its faults, though, there’s no denying that Labor Day ranks one of Reitman’s most sincere films. He understands the situation that Frank and Adele find themselves in, and he wants to see them overcome the hurdles that would prevent them from remaining together forever. Of course, he’s aware that a happy ending doesn’t necessarily await Frank and Adele, but that doesn’t stop him from allowing them from enjoying their seemingly limited time together. Still, Reitman’s efforts are undermined by the way Labor Day refuses to see Adele as anything but weak, anxious, and pathetic outside of her interactions with Frank. She’s never allowed to come into her own, and it leaves us wondering why Labor Day conspires against her to make her feel worthless and unloved without Frank by her side.
Aired: Jan. 30, 2014
Web site: http://www.labordaymovie.com/