Words: Jamie McBride
Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tobey Maguire, Brighid Fleming
Running time: 111 minutes
Image: Paramount Pictures
Set on the US holiday Labor Day weekend, Labor Day is a sentimental yet tense drama that follows the interactions of Adele (Winslet) and her son Henry (Griffith) with an escaped convict, Frank (Brolin), as he stays in their home for the weekend following his escape. Over the course of the film they learn more about him and it would seem there’s a deeper side to his character than what Adele and Henry expect. First off, the cast of the film do their best and are successful in their character portrayals – Winslet plays the meek, despondent divorcée very well and this contrasts well with Brolin’s consistently moody expression, although his character of the ‘misunderstood rogue’ is at times bordering on a bit clichéd. Griffith also does well, always having a blankly depressed look on his face and in his body language that really gets across the lack of happiness in Henry.
The film has some really nice points, like it’s camerawork and general visual feel – it has a nice look to it all the time and a really fantastic focus on moments of delicacy that’s enjoyable to watch, and Reitman uses flashes of other cutscenes at random points to slowly build up a second story and to give the audience more information on the ever tough to place Frank. And the soundtrack works well, having at times a traditional American countryside feeling with the gentle guitar and at other times a more tense feeling with its use of slow, gradually building strings. But this brings me to the major flaw in the film – the fact that it can’t choose exactly what kind of film it exactly is. Even at the beginning the soundtrack is tense but the images onscreen are of traditional American suburbia which worked well at first, but as the film goes on it becomes slightly difficult to know whether to be feeling sentimental and touched or tense and unnerved, especially with Frank who makes a very quick switch from threatening stranger to ‘complex, possibly loveable rogue’.
Reitman creates an interesting story that explores the deeper issues of Frank’s guilt but it’s a film that also focuses on Henry’s coming-of-age and on the relationship between Adele and Frank, as well as other minor issues. All of these come together but they don’t really hold, as the film has brought up a lot of interesting points but doesn’t give time to actually explore any of them. There’s also a strange sexual undertone to the film (I’d assume linked to Henry’s coming-of-age) that’s interesting, but when a peach pie is used in one scene to symbolise tradition and in the next as a sex symbol the tone gets just a little confusing and creepy rather than thought-provoking. The film has real potential and at points I did find myself touched by some of the scenes, but once the plot and the directing are actually thought about they don’t really stand up. Likewise, it’s good that the characters’ manners don’t really change, given that the film is set over only five days (a fact that surprised me when I realised it, as the tone makes it seem so much longer) but, without spoiling anything, the thought of the film’s events happening over just five days is just a little bit preposterous and this lack of credibility is hard to ignore.