Movie Review - "Labor Day"
Starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin
“Labor Day” creates great suspense by following all three of the principles of classical drama: unity of action, unity of time, and unity of place. The action revolves around a mother and child who harbor an escaped convict. The time period over which the action unfolds is a Labor Day weekend in 1987. Most of the story takes place in their home and yard, with a few short trips to the grocery store and bank in their small town. This compression of time, place, and action results in a focus on the present, with an outcome that remains unknown until the very end of the film. Yet in one respect, everything important is known from the opening scene: Tobey Maguire narrates some of the story as a grown man looking back on the ways in which those few days changed the rest of his life and the life of his mother. The mother, Adele, is played by Kate Winslet with great intensity. Josh Brolin is Frank, the escaped convict, and Gattlin Griffith is Henry, a boy of around fourteen who lives alone with his mother.
Much of what we want to know about how the characters arrived at this moment in their lives is revealed only gradually in a kind of slow peeling away of the layers of an onion. Food and cooking, in fact, make up important elements of the story, which concerns itself with what is necessary to feed not only the bodies of the characters but also with what is required to nurture their spirits. One of the most powerful scenes in the film involves the making of a peach pie, beginning with a neighbor’s delivery of a bushel of peaches he cannot eat. Frank then teaches Adele and Henry how to prepare the peaches and how to make the pie crust. As their hands join in combining the ingredients and rolling out the crust, the three come together as a family -- for a weekend, and perhaps for much longer. This is a food scene that could rival the great banquet scene in the ‘60s film, “Tom Jones,” based on the novel by Henry Fielding.
As the escaped convict, Josh Brolin is both harsh and gentle. He is constantly aware of what must be done to make good his escape, yet he is drawn to help Adele and Henry in all the ways that he can. He repairs broken parts of their home and car even as he is helping to heal Adele’s broken spirit.
The novel on which the film is based was written by Joyce Maynard, and the screenplay was written by Maynard and by the film’s director, Jason Reitman. Reitman also directed “Up In The Air,” “Thank You For Smoking,” and “Juno.” The film is rated PG-13 and its length is 111 minutes. Available on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and other streaming services.