15 March 2014

Jason Reitman’s ‘Labor Day’

Looking back at earlier posts, it is surprising how often US films are based on novels (eg The Descendants) or plays (eg August: Osage County). Labor Day derives from the 2009 novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard. It is mostly set in a small town in Massachusetts over a few days in the late 1970s with flashbacks to earlier years. Non-US filmgoers might need to remind themselves that Labor Day is the first Monday in September and regarded as marking the end of summer.

A single mother, Adele Wheeler (Kate Winslet), and her teenage son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith), encounter Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin) in the supermarket. He admits to being a newly escaped convict and for a few days the Wheelers provide him with refuge. The story then becomes a matter of waiting to see just how things will end badly. Or, since this is an American film, how it could possibly conclude on an optimistic note. As the main drama unfolds over the Labor Holiday weekend, the background stories of Frank's crime and of Adele's becoming a single mother are revealed through a series of flashbacks. I have to admit that one particular aspect of Frank's past which came out towards the end of the film eluded me - I only learnt about it from the plot summary on Wikipedia.

Although the pace of the film is slow, all three of the main characters were so convincingly portrayed, particularly in the way the relationship between Adele and Frank develops, that the implausibilities of the story didn't intrude. This is a very different film from Reitman’s Up in the Air with George Clooney, but it confirms his ability as a director to draw fine performances from actors of the first rank as Winslet shows herself to be.

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