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Labor Day Review


Adapting the novel of the same name from Joyce Maynard, Labor Day sees writer/director Jason Reitman delivers a movie far removed from the comedy dramas, such as Thank You for Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air, that made his name. This is pretty much a slow burn, a beautifully shot, and heart breaking, coming of age story about 13 year old Henry Wheeler (Gattlin Griffith), juggling the perils of puberty with caring for his recently divorced mother Adele (Kate Winslet), who has fallen into a deep depression. One fateful Labor Day weekend in 1987, escaped convict Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin) comes into their lives, and turns them upside down.

From a narrative point of view, Labor Day emulates the feel of a lazy holiday weekend, slow with nothing much happening, save for some brief flashes of activity. It is an exquisitely shot movie, Reitman capturing the beauty of the New Hampshire setting with every frame, sometimes letting his camera linger a bit longer than usual on a particular shot. Presented as an older Henry (Tobey MaGuire) recalling the events of this fateful weekend, the story, which wastes no time with the set up, settles into a leisurely pace once Frank sets foot inside the Wheeler home, more concerned with exploring the characters and how they deal with this unique situation than advancing any real plot. Soon it becomes scenes of this strange family unit doing very typical family things, from ball games in the back garden to making pies (one of the simplest, yet strongest, scenes in the movie), the overall plot a distant memory. It's a ballsy move from Reitman, but unfortunately one he only partly pulls off. The story soon becomes filled with romantic cliches, that are handled with a deft hand for the most part, but over time become a burden to the movie, making events eye rollingly predictable, especially in the overly sappy finale. The lazy narrative is further hurt by out of context flashbacks which take their time to become clear, and can become extremely confusing. Things pick up on the home stretch in the third act, with plot threads tied up in deeply satisfying ways. Overall, the narrative is a brave choice from the director, and you have to hand it to him for making it work for the most part, but there isn't enough in the plot to carry the story as he envisioned it.

The central pairing of Winslet and Brolin is by far the movies strongest element, the two actors playing off each other perfectly. Winslet thoroughly convinces as the beyond damaged Adele, the simple act of going to the store becoming pure torture for her, and you can see the horror and frustration at this situation etched on her face. She delivers probably one of her most heartfelt performances in recent years, and seeing the changes Frank brings out in her, clawing her way out of the emotional she has found herself in, is a delight since she is the character you become most invested in. The character of Frank is originally presented as the typical escaped con, but soon you seen there is more to him. Brolin plays him with a quiet intensity and a strange charm that makes almost instantly endearing. Griffith becomes our guide and surrogate, and his story, while it takes a bit of a back seat to Frank and Adele's growing closeness, does have its high points.

Bolstered by some fantastic performances from its leads, Labor Day can be a bit of a treacly slog to get through at times, but given your time and utmost attention, can be satisfying in its own way.

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The Movie Bit: Labor Day Review
Labor Day Review
The Movie Bit
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