Labor Day Movie Review

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Much like this movie, with a lot more to offer than meets the eye, the film’s title Labor Day intimates alternate ways of seeing, and what tends to get masked in the real world. A gently captivating story stretching out across the deceptively serene late summer holiday weekend in question, the film references that September date which honor the working stiff.

But in reality, that holiday was designated in 1887 under then President Cleveland, to in fact stifle the increasingly powerful labor movement. That is, by officially usurping and discrediting the day the US workingclass had itself chosen to celebrate, commemorate – specifically the 1886 government orchestrated Haymarket Massacre of rebel workers – and strengthen their ongoing political and economic struggles against the establishment – May Day.

So in effect, what might any of this have to do with a love story seemingly too offbeat for the choice of a more conventional holiday like say, Valentine’s Day. Or perhaps that’s the point, an uncharted narrative journey complicated by concealed and intentionally misleading markers and detours.

And this elusively eloquent tale features three shifting protagonists, the most centrally grounded among them being Henry (Tobey Maguire), the adult narrator revisiting his strained early adolescence (played by Gattlin Griffith) playing out in rural Massachusetts. Henry’s father deserted the family years ago to nest with his secretary, when his emotionally fragile wife Adele (Kate Winslet) suffered repeated miscarriages and was unable to bear him more children. And it falls to Henry to not only assume the weighty role of surrogate household patriarch, but to care for his now chronically anguished and withdrawn mother.

But this generally gloomy set of circumstances is subjected to traumatic reconfiguration, when an escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin), who had been serving time on a murder charge, accosts the terrified pair in a store and forces them under threat of potential harm, to conceal him in their home until he can safely flee. Though as time passes, these three emotionally needy individuals – Henry for a father, Adele for a lover and protector, and Frank himself simply for a family – transform one another through mutual nurturing that both transcends and defies social conventions surrounding and imprisoning them.

Writer/director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up In The Air) surprises and impresses with this delicately crafted, tenderly conveyed unorthodox romance. As a woman once valued, and found lacking, solely for her worth as a bearer of children, a convict whose guilt confounds with unsettling gray areas, and a child discovering by chance a caring surrogate father, grasp beyond danger, for a greater, collectively binding precociously ‘nontraditional family’ emotional truth.

Which is not to say that Labor Day is a flawless tale. Far too many flashbacks intrude awkwardly. Along with a contrived ending that feels tacked on more for the sake of a requisite Hollywood upbeat resolution. When simply the vicarious seductive aroma of peach pies Frank once taught Henry as a child to bake years ago, would have splendidly sufficed.

To see the trailer of Labor Day:

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.