Let’s just get this out of the way. I am a huge Kate Winslet fan and have been since I was about eight years old. So as you can imagine, I am a bit biased where her movies are concerned. However, I CAN admit when she makes bad choices :ahem: Movie 43. Thankfully, the stinkers have been few and far between.
Winslet’s new film, Labor Day, is turning out to be a very divisive movie amongst critics. Mostly because it involves a story line that you either accept right away and enjoy, or can’t take seriously, and therefore don’t like the film. I was intrigued from the start, and although Labor Day is by no means my favorite movie in Winslet’s filmography, I still really enjoyed it! It’s sexy, well-acted, and entertaining. Plus, the sizzling chemistry between Winslet and Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men) cannot be ignored, no matter what you think of the movie. As long as you are okay with a little (okay, a lot) of melodramatic moments, Labor Day, a different, dark romance, will speak to your passionate side and hold your attention.
Adapted for the screen by director Jason Reitman (Up In The Air, Juno), Labor Day (novel by Joyce Maynard) focuses on thirteen-year-old Henry Wheeler (the astonishing Gattlin Griffith) and his lonely mother Adele (Winslet). After a divorce and traumatic incident lead Adele to become agoraphobic, it is up to Henry to become the man of the house. Told from his perspective, Henry recounts the Labor Day weekend in 1987 when his and his mother’s lives were changed forever; it was this holiday weekend that they met escaped prisoner Frank (Brolin).
Due to her anxiety, Adele can only muster up the courage to go to the store about once a month. Her shaky hands indicate that any sort of public outing is incredibly taxing on her psyche. On one of the monthly store runs, Adele and Henry are forcefully persuaded to help a bleeding (yet still incredibly handsome) Frank, who they take back to their house to allow him to “rest his legs” (aka: hide out in their house). Although Frank was convicted of killing his wife, he quickly assures the Wheelers that he was wrongfully accused and would never hurt them. At first, they are expectedly afraid of the fugitive, especially because he is (kind of) keeping them hostage in their own home. However, as the mother and son get to know him, they begin to see Frank as a husband and father figure. He fixes things around the house, makes pies, flirts with Adele, and plays baseball with Henry.
Quickly, Adele and Henry find they don’t want Frank to leave, even after he decides to take the next train out of town. Frank slowly brings Adele out of her shell, showing her she can find love again and Henry has the father he always wanted. Of course, it is a little implausible that all of this transpired over a long weekend, but have a heart, people! Now all the newly formed family has to do is help Frank hide from the police manhunt that is going door-to-door looking for him.
Unsurprisingly, Winslet is incredible as Adele. Not only is her American accent extraordinary, but her overall performance is the backbone of the film, constantly having to reinforce her character’s fragility and anxiety. If the audience doesn’t believe Adele is trapped in her own fearful mind, it would be impossible to believe anything else in the story. As the film progresses, Winslet must also subtly show her character opening up and learning to love/trust again. Talk about a character arc! Winslet is the best actress of her generation, and it’s amazing to me that she so easily becomes her character. Josh Brolin is also at his best, using his charisma and brooding charm to capture the heart of Adele and me.
Although I enjoyed Labor Day, I can slightly understand why critics are giving the film a hard time. First, I think the studio made the mistake of initially pushing it for an Oscar nomination when it is not at that level, especially in a year of such fantastic films. On its own, Labor Day is a good movie, but whenever the word “Oscar” is buzzing around, it creates an extra level of criticism and people are extra harsh. Secondly, the melodramatic moments, particularly at the end, were a bit much (at times, even for me). I don’t want to give away too much, but let’s just say I was even rolling my eyes at the occupation an adult Henry chooses for himself. Finally, Reitman has made his mark directing stunningly original, dark comedies, featuring characters that are traditionally unlikeable (but Reitman makes them likeable), independent and confident – all characteristics Adele lacks. However, with this 180, it’s obvious Reitman is trying to show the world that he can direct other types of movies, other genres. Apparently he is also trying to show that he also has a little Terrence Malick in him based on the flashback scenes.
While the early buzz and melodrama have some critics raging, as long as you can “go with” the premise and enjoy watching the performances of two of the best actors working today, you will enjoy Labor Day this weekend.
My Review: B