"Labor Day" is a sexy and sensual love story in which the participants never disrobe. Director-screenwriter Jason Reitman, instead, conveys forbidden love through exquisite performances and a modest approach.
Kate Winslet plays Adele, an emotionally wounded mother who lives with her 13-year-old son, Henry (the wonderful Gattlin Griffith). She's as unkempt as the home in which they reside. Adele has become reclusive, and her relationship with with her son borders on becoming Oedipal.
On a necessary outing to the local store, a man who has blood on his shirt approaches them and insists they give him a ride. His name is Frank (Josh Brolin), and he admits to having been injured while jumping out of a prison hospital window where he's serving 18 years for murder. When they arrive at Adele and Henry's home (as ordered), Frank ever so gently ties up Adele, lending credibility to a kidnapping if he's caught. Soon after, he removes the ropes.
The longer Frank remains, the more Adele and Henry want him to stay. He makes repairs on the house, cooks fabulous meals and teaches Henry to play baseball. Over the next five days, Frank's love and kindness resurrects Adele's emotions, which she thought were long dead. The three agree to become fugitives by moving to Canada.
The plausibility of what unfolds in "Labor Day" depends on the viewer. Set in 1987, in a small town, pre-modern technology, it is not so far-fetched to accept the turn of events. Frequent flashbacks of Frank's former life shed light on the particulars of his conviction. Reitman skillfully constructs the circumstances that surround the story so as not to let it slip into sentimentality. He's masterful at taking unlikely situations and morphing them into perfectly acceptable outcomes (i.e."Juno").
Reitman also sought out actors who could lend immense credibility to the story. Kate Winslet is known for her ability to portray broken women who take great risks ("The Reader," "Revolutionary Road"). In "Labor Day" she manages to make the transition from abject fear to unconditional love seem extremely feasible.
Brolin is also on top of his game balancing his portrayal of a desperate and potentially dangerous fugitive with that of a gentle soul whose past is inescapable. His compelling performance is so convincing we totally understand Adele's willingness to trust him.
"Labor Day" is one of those films you either find utterly outrageous or touchingly graceful. Sometimes it's nice just to take the ride, ask no questions and take it all in stride. The result can prove to be exhilarating.
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