Very few novels have developed the traction Joyce Maynard has with her 2009 novel Labor Day. In just 5 years, the novel has become a well-known coming-of-age story exploring depression and loss over a Labor Day weekend in 1987. A melodrama about the past and struggle to let it go, this film adaptation uses the infallible acting skills of Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin and Gattlin Griffith to portray a lonely single mother, escaped con and the son who is at the centre of the love story that develops.
Adele (Winslet) is a divorced and forlorn mother living in a creaky house with her troubled teenage son Henry (Griffith) in the outskirts of a small suburban town. Their lives are weighed down by Adele’s severe depression ignited by a number of factors and Henry sees his family life remaining the same. That is until an escape prisoner Frank (Brolin) invades their lives and appears to want to take them hostage. Instead over this Labor Day weekend the three find their lives changed as love and loss combine and they find themselves a blissful family unit.
There’s one word that can be used to describe Labor Day: surprising. The film surprises at every turn and the end especially surprises. Director Jason Reitman, known for Up In The Air and Juno, takes us back to the late 1980’s with such ease and chooses to show the entirety of the actions within the house, instead of restricting to just the perspective of Henry as the book does. The tone of the film is absolutely spot on. The script allows each character to explore their flaws and character development continues far into the end of the story. Reitman effortlessly captures the essence of the period and cinematography, production design and music composition is utterly fantastic. But what is really at the helm of the drama is that incredible acting by Winslet, Brolin and Griffith.
Winslet immortalizes her acting abilities in the role of Adele. She’s reclusive, disheartened and fragile, without hope or any resolution of her past. Winslet plays the long-suffering mother with such ease and simply her greatest role since The Reader in 2008. The film belongs to her and Adele, a character destined to stay the same but faced with extraordinary circumstances that change everything. Brolin is also fantastic as runaway Frank Chambers, a murderer serving 18 years in prison. Instead of becoming a one dimensional crime hack, Brolin shows the audience that there is more to the escaped criminal, expressing passion, humanity and compassion easily. Griffiths is also surprising as Henry and his internal conflict is the centre of the story.
Labor Day is also good at asking us about our own opinion on the goings on in the film. Is Frank manipulating Adele into letting him stay? Or is he truly captivated by this distressed mother? Though excessive use of flashbacks confuse for quite a while and visual memory fragments are difficult to piece together initially, the troubled pasts of the characters help the audience understand how a cautious mother and runaway convict fall in love.
The drama culminates in a tension-fueled finale as the narrative changes and timing becomes more desperate. As the trio fall in love with each other and the idea of a united family, the film becomes more captivating and more intense. The simple moments prove to be filled with complexities and the film captures an unconventional and controversial love story by exploring the emotional needs of any and all humans. Though there are unnecessary inclusions and moments of sentimental manipulation, Labor Day is mainly an affecting and intimate film about love, family, loss, heartbreak and longing that should not be forgotten.
Originally published on CelebrityOZ, January 28, 2014.
Watch the trailer for Labor Day below: