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I’m all for second chances at happiness. But when that second chance involves symptoms of the Stockholm syndrome, an escaped criminal that cooks like a chef, and sweltering heat meant to up the sexuality, it all feels a little belabored. Unfortunately that is just what the plot of Labor Day asks you to buy into.
Thirteen-year-old Henry (Gattlin Griffith) lives with his mother Adele (Kate Winslet) in a rural home on a quiet street. His father (Clark Gregg) left the pair for his secretary after Adele suffered a series of miscarriages and fell into a deep and troubling postpartum depression. Henry is old enough to know his mother needs a strong male presence in her life, but too young to fulfill that need.
Instead the pair limps along in an uncomfortable and confining existence with Adele barely able to leave the house—at least not without Henry’s help. However, on the last weekend of summer vacation, they manage to make it to a discount store to get Henry some new school clothes. In the back of the building, Henry stumbles upon a muscular, unshaven man that asks for help. Blood oozes from a wound on the man’s stomach, supposedly the result of falling out of a window. He asks for a ride. Yet once the mother and son take him to their home, the man confesses he is a convict on the run. He ties up Adele and then proceeds to make chili for dinner.
Frank (Josh Brolin), as you soon learn, isn’t your typical murderer. Through a series of flashbacks, the truth of his past is revealed. Meanwhile, in the present, he fixes a loose step, does laundry, cleans out the rain gutters and repairs the car—like a regular domestic denizen. He also teaches Adele and Henry to make peach pie in a scene that is beautifully shot but eerily awkward. Henry senses the rising attraction between the two adults. (His mother has already told him about feelings of “hunger” and “desire” involved with sex.) Later Henry hears the couple engaged in sex in the bedroom next to his.
Despite the discomfort that causes him, Henry likes Frank. Unlike Henry’s father, Frank takes time to teach the boy how to play baseball. He is ready with a good word. He is, to be truthful, too good to believe. And that’s where the plot trips up. Winslet’s emotionally fragile character evokes a certain amount of compassion. Yet there’s something disturbing about watching her succumb so quickly to her captor—a man who may just be playing a part to get Adele to agree to make a run with him for the border.
Along with the sexual depictions and brief discussions about incest, the film includes a depiction of a woman slapping her son, an imagined gunshot that blows out a windshield, a kidnapping and the repeated scene of a domestic murder. Most troubling however is the script, which manipulates a story about a convicted killer and a depressed divorcee into a romantic romp just in time for a Valentine’s Day theatrical release.
Labor Day is rated PG-13: for thematic material, brief violence and sexuality.
Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Tobey Maguire, Gattlin Griffith
Studio: 2013 Paramount Pictures
Website: Official site for Labor Day.