It says something about Jason Reitman that he can make an effective romantic film where the central figures are a seriously depressed divorcee' (Kate Winslet) and an escaped killer (Josh Brolin).
It says something. I'm not sure what it says, but it says something.
If you venture into Reitman's Labor Day expecting his usual snarkiness and cynicism, then the nearly two hours that you spend with this film are likely going to be downright painful.
In fact, if you've already started checking out the reviews for Labor Day, then you already know that a good number of critics have almost gleefully trashed the film while, on the other hand, the one critic (Rex Reed!) who trashes nearly everything absolutely loved it.
If you wanted to weave together The Bridges of Madison County, Waitress, Nicholas Sparks, and some old school thrillers, then you might get an idea of what to expect from Labor Day.
Labor Day should fail miserably, but it doesn't. A good reason why the film doesn't fail is the spot-on Golden Globe-nominated performance from Kate Winslet, who manages to be believable both as a depressed and reclusive divorcee and as a blossoming "I'm going to follow this guy" anywhere kind of gal even though we're all sitting in the theater going "There's no way."
Labor Day also works because Josh Brolin is perfectly cast and knows absolutely perfectly what to do here to sell the entire storyline. Brolin has always had an intensity about him that has made him particularly convincing in intensely dramatic roles, but here he manages to embody a man whose story unfolds through flashbacks played out over time. We already know for a fact that his story involves murder and it takes a mighty fine performance to make us realize this guy's full humanity.
Winslet and Brolin have a marvelous chemistry together both in terms of passion and playfulness. While we find ourselves worrying about this out-of-the-box scenario, it's easy to understand and surrender to it all because these two do genuinely look and feel like they belong together.
The action takes place, as you might guess, over a Labor Day weekend in a small New Hampshire town where Adele (Winslet) has taken her son (Gattlin Griffith) after a series of tragedies destroyed her marriage. Frank (Brolin) shows up and initially forces their cooperation with his evading capture, but over time he relaxes into this little sanctuary and captures a long gone spark with Adele.
It is. It really is.
It also works.
Sure, Frank can be a menacing figure but he also cooks, cleans, advises, and even helps Adele take care of a neighbor with an intellectual disability (Brooke Smith).
It's really too good to be true and it doesn't take long for Adele to consider packing up her bags and following Frank to Canada with her son by her side.
It goes without saying, I suppose, that a certain ability to suspend belief helps one fully surrender to Labor Day, but it is to Reitman's credit that he makes it all that much easier with believable dialogue and scenes that play out authentically no matter how outlandish they may seem.
D.P. Eric Steelberg's lensing is marvelous, while Rolfe Kent's original music captures the film's highs and lows to perfection. Labor Day is one of those films where "poetic" is an absolutely perfect description.
Labor Day won't please everyone, but my gut tells me that Reitman has pretty much made exactly the film he wanted and he's aligned himself with the perfect cast to pull it off. It has been quite awhile since a genuinely entertaining romantic thriller has entered theaters aimed squarely at adult crowds, but Labor Day will definitely captivate you if you can surrender yourself to it.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic