“Labor Day” moves at the slowest pace possible in order to expand a three-day weekend into a 111-minute film. In the end, the movie starts too slowly, ends too quickly and the middle is too unreasonably sensual to effectively turn the sappy into the believable.
The film opens with adult Henry (Tobey Maguire) looking back at a Labor Day weekend so many years ago when he was just a 13-year-old boy (Gattlin Griffith). Henry is trying to contain his rapid pubertal changes alone while his mother Adele (Kate Winslet) struggles to even get out of bed in the morning every day since her divorce.
Escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin) seeks out the duo’s help so that he can elude the police. And so begins the tale of how Frank and Adele find love, despite all odds, and how Frank becomes a father figure to Henry by the second day.
The film attempts to effortlessly weave flashbacks in order to tell not only Frank’s story, but Adele’s as well. Frank never meant to hurt anybody and Adele is presented as a woman who needs love to survive, no matter who gives that love (which is shown by her jerk of an ex-husband).
The viewer only sees the story through Henry’s eyes but a lot of his inner struggle is lost on us.
This story was written as a book and its transition to film is questionable.
Despite that fact, director Jason Reitman manages to take this somewhat sedentary story and make it compelling and dramatic. Reitman specializes in the attempt to show a different side to ordinary lives — just take a look at his past films “Juno” and “Up in the Air.”
But in the end, Brolin’s character remains the creepy convict that barrels into this family too easily. Winslet’s depiction of Adele is a sensual and heart-wrenching one, but her character shows no transformation or change — her hands will always shake and her son will never be enough reason for her to enjoy life.
Henry rapidly transitions into a man in the last 4 or 5 minutes of the film, but it all happens too briskly. It’s impossible to see him any way other than a boy trying to be what his mom needs and failing over and over again.
— Lizzie Goodell
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