Labor Day, rated PG-13
Starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tobey Maguire, Clark Gregg, J.K. Simmons
Austin Family critical rating: 4 of 5 stars
Austin Family family-friendly rating: 3 of 5 stars
Labor Day is the fifth film from director Jason Reitman, who brought us Juno (2007) and Up in the Air (2009). The picture represents new ground for Reitman, who very successfully went much darker with his masterful Young Adult (2011) two years ago.
This new film, which screened at the Austin Film Festival in October, is a romantic drama that’s also a coming-of-age story (with a few detours into thriller territory). Henry (Gattlin Griffith) lives with his mother Adele (Kate Winslet), whose anxiety and depression make it difficult for her to get out of the house regularly. When they visit the local grocery store, they are approached by Frank (Josh Brolin), a criminal who has just escaped from prison. He asks Henry and Adele to drive him back to their house and help him hide from the police. The film is concerned with the bonds formed among these three individuals over the subsequent three-day Labor Day weekend at Henry and Adele’s house – namely, the father-son bond between Henry and Frank, and the romantic connection between Frank and Adele.
What’s interesting about Labor Day is the sense that the events in the film were all meant to happen – there are several moments that, upon closer inspection, don’t make much logical sense. For instance, why do Henry and Adele really think they can trust an escaped convict? But because the film unfolds like an old memory (which I suppose it is), I accepted everything I was shown, and I was quickly drawn into a richly detailed emotional world that felt very different from anything I’ve seen recently.
There are moments, particularly when Henry describes in voiceover his fear of being abandoned by his mother for Frank, where the film has the sting that Reitman so memorably displayed in Young Adult. There are cutaways to imaginary scenarios in Henry’s imagination that are disturbing in the right ways, giving us an idea of this young man’s interpretation of the world around him. Labor Day’s earnestness and directness makes it unlike anything else in cinemas currently. It’s an unabashedly romantic film and a wonderful next step in the already incredible career of Jason Reitman.
Jack Kyser is a graduate of Austin High School and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.