The most saccharine holiday
Labor Day is too melodramatic to be palatable
Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, and Gattlin Griffith
Labor Day is Henry’s (Gattlin Griffith) reminisces of Labor Day weekend in 1987 when he was 13. His mother Adele (Kate Winslet) has become a nervous shut-in after her divorce from Henry’s father, and has isolated Henry and herself. But on a monthly shopping trip, they are forced to harbor Frank (Josh Brolin), an escaped fugitive.
From that point forward, the story becomes a cliché. Henry clings to Frank as a father figure, while Adele worries that Frank is exploiting Henry’s naiveté. But her doubts evaporate quickly when Frank teaches Henry and Adele to bake a peach pie. The remainder of the story conveniently explains Frank’s conviction as an accident and presents him as a family man ready to complete Henry and Adele’s life.
But the whole story has taste of a too-sweet pie. Adele and Frank’s love is presented as a testament that everyone can learn to love again, but the rapidly flip-flopping Adele seems to be a victim of Stockholm syndrome rather than Cupid’s arrow. It strains the suspension of disbelief to believe that both Frank and Adele are misunderstood victims marital infidelity. The story features unbelievable flashbacks meant to explain Frank’s story, but these only make him seem more dangerous.
It’s also clear that Adele and Henry have a skewed version of reality. After Henry gives Adele a coupon book entitled “Husband for a Day,” he reminisces that he could not provide her with what she was really missing. In the following scene, Adele tries to tell Henry about sex in a monologue that comes off comically Oedipal for all the wrong reasons.
The narration, provided by a present-day Henry, should give the story the feeling of a ticking time bomb, it but only makes the ending more predictable. The movie’s version of an epilogue ties up every last narrative thread, leaving no questions about this family, which had already lost my interest. And when Frank tells Adele the last three days were worth another 20 years in prison, I couldn’t help wondering how much I would give to avoid seeing this movie again.