Forgoing his usual brand of wit and cynicism director Jason Reitman has plumped for something altogether more heartfelt and romantic with his latest, Labor Day. There’s no wisecracking pregnant teenagers, no cooperate stooges or vindictive prom-queens here, but there is a warm, only slightly over-sentimental, family drama.
With his father leaving them to start a new family with his secretary, Henry (Gattlin Griffith) has to offer any kind of emotional support he can for his depressed mother Adele (Kate Winslet). But on Labor Day weekend Henry meets escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin) who Adele grants sanctuary from the law. As Frank takes up the role of man of the house, so Adele begins to fall for his charms and Henry begins to see a happiness in his mother he never thought possible.
Shot with a Terrence Malick aesthetic, the sun gently kissing everything with an ever-warming presence, Labor Day is always a beautiful story. Appealing to the senses, with its focus on the ability of food to become something more sensual than just edible, Reitman has created a luminous film encompassing a detailed character drama.
There are parallels to Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World; a child begins to fathom the complexities of adulthood by witnessing those around him. It is very much a mature story told through the eyes of a child. But Reitman is clearly drawing inspiration from the early works of Steven Spielberg. The idea of an absent father and a new surrogate one stepping up to the plate are clear. There are also visual references; the watching of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind being one such example.
But the real clue comes around the halfway point as we see a poster of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial on the back of Henry’s door. In many ways Labor Day follows the same narrative and themes of Spielberg’s little-legged alien. Frank might not have a glowing finger but he does have the power to heal Adele’s broken heart and offer Henry both a friend and role model.
Winslet brings a brilliant broken and timid quality to Adele. She’s an actress you can depend on and Labor Day continues that trend. Griffith is solid as young Henry, his innocent eyes always conveying a desperation to please his mother and a glimmer of hope at Frank’s encouragement. Brolin meanwhile shines as Frank, at first brooding and intimidating he soon melts both Adele and our hearts through his quiet power and sympathetic nature.
One for the hopeless romantic in you, Labor Day is a hot summer’s day love story that while a little too long will still manage to warm your soul.