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Labor of Love – A review of Labor Day

Updated on February 16, 2014
Josh Brolin plays an escaped convict who falls in love with Kate Winslet in the romance movie Labor Day
Josh Brolin plays an escaped convict who falls in love with Kate Winslet in the romance movie Labor Day

Title: Labor Day

Production Company: Paramount Pictures

Run Time: 111 minutes

Rated: PG-13

Director: Jason Reitman

Stars: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg, Tobey Maguire

5 stars for Labor Day

Summary: An atypical love affair. This is the kind of romance movie that doesn’t insult or dumb down for the audience.

I don’t think I’d ever pick Josh Brolin to play a romantic leading man. His jaw is too square and his face too rugged that I’d buy him in more of those tough guy law man or villain type roles. But romantic lead? Nah.

Here, though, he is perfectly cast as both a criminal type AND a romantic lead. And the amalgamation is perfect.

Frank (Brolin) was convicted as a young man of killing his young wife (the specifics are never revealed, but flashbacks do a pretty good job of fleshing out the back story). He has just spent eighteen years in prison and, when he saw an opportunity to make a break for it, he takes it.

Injured in his escape, he seeks the aid of a young man and his mother at a local grocery store. Under what appears to be threat of harm, they give him the requested ride and refuge at their quiet country home.

Adele (Kate Winslet) is a shut-in reclusive who, after her divorce from Gerald (Clark Gregg) finds that she has difficulty assimilating with the world around her.

Her son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith), diligently tries to hold up his end as the remaining man of the house but even he is painfully aware that he can’t be everything that his mother needs.

The story unfolds with more charm and integrity then you might expect from this type of movie. It’s actually easy to see why these two might fall in love with one another. The only perplexity is Henry’s reaction to it all.

At times, it appears that he will latch onto to Frank as a father figure, yet at others, it appears that he might resent the intrusion into his and his mother’s lives.

At his age, he’s just coming into his own sexuality and the parallel story of his introduction to those feelings while his mother is rediscovering them makes this a wonderful study of love in the making.

Don’t get me wrong. This film never does descend into the tawdry or explicit details of sex. That’s not what this movie is about. You can save that for those R rated “romance” pictures that seem to hit the theaters with far more frequency these days.

The film’s only major drawback is the awkward moments that occur with some regularity throughout the movie. It seems that the laughs always come at the least appropriate times and there’s even one gasp-out-loud moment that will shock everyone watching the movie.

The film is set in New Hampshire during the five days that lead up to Labor Day, hence the title. Reality speaking, though, the film could have been set in any season and any place. It’s not uniquely suited to this setting, but it does work extremely well.

And the acting is top notch. Winslet is always a fine performer and here again she proves why she keeps winning awards. As reclusive Adele, she brings to life a character fraught with insecurities and trepidation.

Young Gattlin Griffith is just starting out in his acting career, but he’s already amassed quite a few TV and movie credits. His approach is almost a tad monotone, but then again, I can buy that from his character. I suspect we’re going to see a lot more of him down the road.

Clark Gregg is probably best known for his portrayal of Coulson in the Marvel movies and on the TV show Agents of SHIELD. His laid back character may be under suited for this role, but he carries it off well.

Labor Day may not win any awards but as a diversion leading up to the most romantic holiday of the year, this is well worth checking out. It’s not offensive, though, like many of Hollywood’s usual romantic offerings. I give it 4-1/2 out of 5 stars.

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