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Labor Day (Blu-ray Review)

25 Apr, 2014 By: John Latchem

Street 4/29/14
Box Office $13.37 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for thematic material, brief violence and sexuality.
Stars Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tobey Maguire, Tom Lipinski, Maika Monroe, Clark Gregg, James Van Der Beek, J.K. Simmons.

After the acclaimed heaped upon him for Juno and Up in the Air, writer-director Jason Reitman withdrew a bit from the mainstream spotlight with 2011’s Young Adult, a sobering, intelligent portrait of thirtysomething life that somehow didn’t generate much buzz.

His latest, Labor Day, arrived late last year with even less fanfare, though at this point anything from the younger Reitman (he’s the son of Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman) deserves at least some attention. At the very least, his filmography demonstrates a resolve to pursue projects of a more personal nature, rather than seek the glory of a payout by signing on to the next big superhero franchise. A unifying factor, as related in the bonus material here, is Reitman’s fascination with what drives seemingly ordinary characters to do inexplicable things.

Adapted from the 2009 novel by Joyce Maynard, Reitman’s Labor Day is an intimate coming-of-age story about lost souls connecting. The film makes a lot of subtle observations about the ways human beings find ways to relate to one another and what drives the urges for such relationships. I suspect, however, that the book was much cleaner in relating these details, as the bulk of the film is focused on the quiet love that develops between shut-in divorced mother Adele (Kate Winslet) and escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin), while he takes refuge in her home. A lot of the film’s themes are discussed in depth in a half-hour making-of featurette and the commentary track with Reitman and some of the other filmmakers.

Another 10-and-a-half minutes of deleted scenes showcase abandoned subplots that also tie back into the film’s central motifs.

As with the book, Labor Day is presented from the point of view of Adele’s son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith, with Tobey Maguire narrating as the older Henry), who becomes a central figure in this ersatz family unit, as Frank asserts himself as more of a father figure than Henry’s own dad (played by Clark Gregg of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”).

The underlying tension that threatens all this unity is, of course, the manhunt for Frank, whose own story is relayed in a fractured flashback that provides a sympathetic edge to his criminal past.

Most viewers will likely find the movie much too ponderous for their tastes, as most of the story is propelled through quiet interactions. The film’s real strength is in its performances, particularly Winslet’s complex portrayal of a woman who fears the outside world yet longs to once again understand what it means to be in love.

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