Directed by Jason Reitman
Labor Day weekend is a time for families to get together and enjoy some of time off. But in “Labor Day,” starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin and narrated by Tobey Maguire, the so-called family consists of a mother, son and their kidnapper in a bizarre film that is a toss-up between love and Stockholm Syndrome, blurring the lines of morality and justice.
Henry Wheeler (Gattlin Griffith) lives with his divorced mother Adele (Winslet), who suffers from crippling depression and anxiety, originating from her infidelity. On a routine shopping trip, they are accosted by escaped prison inmate Frank (Brolin), who takes forced residence in their home. He first ties up the Wheelers in order to prevent them from being considered accomplices in housing a fugitive, but eventually lets them roam freely around the house after earning their trust. What follows afterward is quite strange, deviating from a typical kidnapping scenario.
Frank becomes a father figure, doing handiwork and fixing the car. Sexual tension emerges between him and Adele, eventually resulting in an unusually developing relationship. In one scene, Frank practically straddles Adele while showing her how to make pie crust, resulting in a montage that is meant to be sensual and touching, but is more awkward and stiff.
Winslet’s performance as the grim-faced mother is consistent, which is to say that she manages to keep a concerned-looking frown for most of the movie. Winslet falls victim to flat characters who do not accentuate her talents as an actress. She has no memorable lines, only a persistent nervousness that is sad in the beginning, but forgettable overall.
As for Brolin, his portrayal of Frank seems true to the character’s tough but caring image, as shown in the scene where he teaches Henry to fix a car, but unfortunately also feels off-putting and creepy. Any attempts to make his relationship with the Wheelers seem heartfelt falter, mostly because of Brolin’s lines. At one point in the movie, Winslet’s character admits that she can’t have kids, saying, “I cannot give you a family.” To this, Brolin’s character replies, with a cold look that seems devoid of any emotion, “You’re all the family I need.”
“Labor Day” is meant to glorify a forbidden love, but ultimately comes off as uncomfortable because of lackluster writing and disingenuous characterization. The film aims high, but only ends up being a representation of two lonely people who are just happy to finally have someone to sleep with again.