“And I know it’s true that visions are seldom all they seem….”
Yeah, that’s from Sleeping Beauty (and the upcoming Maleficent). But that line of lyrics suits this film perfectly too. Because Labor Day’s outer crust of “man on the lam forcing a woman and her tween-age son to shelter him” hides a softer, sweeter filling. If Labor Day was a pie, it’d be a perfect combination of sweet and savory, not too gooey; a pie tasty enough to have me thinking of seconds.
Why the pie metaphor? Easy. Because Labor Day also has the sexiest damn pie in the history of pie. Yes I know you exist, American Pie. But you get the silver here. Labor Day is based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, and if you doubt the hotness of this pivotal scene? Check out the way it plays out in Maynard’s novel. Understand me now? Yeah, thought you would.
What works in Labor Day is the slow reveal of the past lives of it’s main characters, Kate Winslet’s Adele and Josh Brolin’s Frank. Yes, it’ true that Adele is an agoraphobic shut-in. It’s also true that Frank has escaped from a lengthy prison sentence for murder. But as their stories unfold — in misty flashbacks that slowly become more and more focused, a lovely touch by cinematographer Eric Steelberg and director Jason Reitman ( both of Juno, Young Adult, Up In The Air). What also works is setting the film in 1987, before cell phones and social media would take the isolation out of everyday life. When Frank, Adele and young Henry are alone in the house, there’s an eerie sense of the unknowable, and that feeling of being too far away even from your neighbors is something that modern-day settings couldn’t pull off convincingly.
Winslet, Brolin and Gattlin Griffith (as young Henry) have great chemistry together. You see them connecting on many levels, and though the overall premise feels like something out of a Maury episode, Labor Day manages to make it feel authentic. Possibly because the film goes beyond Henry’s first-person narrative from the novel, and looks at the story from all angles. Winslet’s Adele has a broken grace and yearning for love that’s palpable, and Brolin’s Frank is broken in his own particular ways.
Depending on what movie poster you’ve seen, you could be thinking this is either a feel-good chick flick along the lines of The Notebook, or a nail-biting suspense thriller in the vein of Cape Fear. It’s neither. Instead, it’s a blend of thriller and love story, a tangled look at how damaged people can come together and try to make something better…if the world allows. That blending may leave some fans of the straight-up genres unsettled and confused. However, if allow Labor Day to unfold, and see it as a coming-of-age story for Henry, Adele and Frank, it’s a satisfying slice of storytelling.
BTW, wanna know how to make that pie? Well, the recipe’s right here. Bon appetit!