By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Certainly one of my favorite films of the 2013 Austin Film Festival, Labor Day kept me mostly captivated and on the edge of my seat the first time I viewed the film at the historical Paramount Theater. I had the opportunity to view the film again prior to its opening release this week, and I took full advantage of this chance to revisit this fine film. It had been a few months since I had first seen the film, therefore, I needed a bit of a refresher to help recall the story, plot, and character elements. I also wanted to see if it would be a film that could still deliver with repeat viewings. I have to say that revisiting Jason Reitman’s film adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel nearly had the same impact it did three months ago, when I had no idea where the film would take me. Combining the genres of suspense/thriller, love story, and coming-of-age drama in such a lovely way, Reitman delivers a sweet movie full of heart that should go over well with most movie audiences.
On one fateful Labor Day weekend, single mother Adele Wheeler (Kate Winslett) and her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) encounter escaped fugitive, Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin) who demands that the two take him to their home immediately. Fearing for their safety, the Wheelers reluctantly allow Frank to remain in their home overnight to recover from some injuries, so that he will be in better shape when he continues his flight from the authorities. While in their household, Frank proves to be quite helpful as a “guest” and actually displays a quiet charm and courteous demeanor. As the weekend continues, Adele and Henry allow Frank to remain, as he succeeds in winning not only the heart of Henry, who badly needs a strong father figure, but also the heart of Adele, who has been lonely and depressed for so long.
Reitman, who not only directs, but also adapts the screenplay, proves he can deliver an old fashioned love story without the usual cynicism that his stories often have. The movie does drag a little in parts; nevertheless, the movie is a poignant and bittersweet film that works fairly well in all of the genres in which it dabbles. Reitman, definitely has tremendous talent when it comes to developing story and characters, and even though I really enjoy most of his films, I found it refreshing to see him tackle a more straightforward story with very little snark or irony.
The cast all deliver superb performances, effectively giving life to their characters. I must say, that for characters with soft-spoken and quiet demeanors, Winslett, Brolin and Griffith wonderfully use their eyes, facial expressions and body language to express the range of emotions required to tell this story. Any lesser actors would have played these roles way too flatly and would have lost their audiences easily. The film also features splendid performances by Clark Gregg, who portrays Henry’s father and Brighid Flemming as Henry’s sharp and savvy friend Eleanor. Tobey Maguire provides some lovely narration and appears briefly as the adult Henry.
I recommend Reitman’s latest movie quite highly, as this time of year doesn’t usually have too many great selections from which to choose; that is, if one isn’t still catching up on the award nominees. It definitely was great to revisit this film, and I can easily see myself enjoying it during multiple viewings. During the Q&A session following the AFF screening, Jason Reitman mentioned that he would be shooting his next movie in the Austin area. I can hardly wait to see what he has to offer us.