by Katie Morford
“Labor Day” is a film of contrasts. The idyllic small town scenery is the unexpected backdrop for a deeply unnerving story. Directed by Jason Reitman, “Labor Day” is based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard.
The film stars Kate Winslet as Adele, a depressed, forlorn single-mother of 13-year-old Henry (played by Gattlin Griffith). The majority of the action is set in 1987, and the drama unfolds from Henry’s young, teenage perspective.
A monthly trip by Adele and Henry to a grocery store for supplies turns ominous when Frank (played by Josh Rolin), an escaped and clearly injured convict, demands a ride to Adele’s home. On the car ride home a radio newscast warns that Frank was in prison for murder.
Although originally frightened, Adele seems slowly won over by Frank as he fixes up her house and cooks repeatedly. Frank talks of jumping on a train and leaving but ends up staying over the whole Labor Day weekend as a romantic attachment quickly develops between him and Adele.
Nice as it may sound, the plot of “Labor Day” is filled with uncomfortable emotional depth. Frank, who really is guilty of murder, holds Adele and Henry captive, even tying up Adele and feeding her like a child near the beginning of the weekend. It’s not cute. Overall, the Stockholm syndrome romance comes out tense and disturbing rather than edgy and romantic.
More tension comes during the frequent flashbacks to the character’s early lives. Although intended to provide illumination, these flashbacks provided more confusion than clarity. Even at the end of the film I didn’t understand the back story and turned to the internet for clarification.
Also thrown into the mix were detailed cooking scenes that seemed to be talking up time more than anything else.
Despite the trying plot, Winslet’s acting was convincing and engaging. She portrayed the love-sick and fearful shut-in with convincing strength. The rest of the actors were also realistic and emotionally engaging in their parts.
The cinematography and lighting were also very well done with comfortable and familiar visual aesthetics, reminiscent of a grandparent’s house. This sense of comfort and familiarity made the unsettling plot stand out all the more.
Despite its points of quality, I don’t think this film would be an enjoyable one for many. If you want two hours of gorgeously shot emotional angst, then, and only then, should you see “Labor Day.”
Review Rating: 1.5/4
Release Date: Jan. 31, 2014
Rated PG-13 for brief violence and sexuality
Categorized as Drama