13-year-old Henry lives an uneventful life with Adele, his depressed, divorced, agoraphobic mother, so it isn’t ideal when Frank, a murderer escaped from prison, takes them hostage in their own house while he lies low. This sounds like a thriller set-up, but Labor Day is actually a touching coming-of-age drama with Frank gradually filling the father/husband-shaped voids in Henry and Adele’s lives.
Narrated by Henry, this is a film only superficially filtered through his pre-pubescent point of view. His fantasies about girls at school aside, Henry’s a remarkably astute, mature and reasoned raconteur – particularly about his mother.
Though Henry is the narrator, Labor Day is all about Adele. As a woman who is (in the words of her ex) “in love with love”, she’s been a wreck since her divorce, and barely makes it through the day even with Henry’s considerable help. Once Frank strong-arms his way into her house she makes a show of defiance but can’t stand up to her grizzled, muscular captor.
Thankfully, she doesn’t have to – Frank is the perfect hostage-taker: he irons, cleans, bakes peach pies, does odd jobs, is considerate, tender and teaches Henry to play baseball. In short, he is everything that the lonely mother and son are lacking in their lives. The only problem is he murdered his wife, and arguably even that isn’t a mark against his character because she was unfaithful and her death an accident.
The performances are great: Kate Winslet’s Adele nervously blossoms under Josh Brolin’s über-manly but secure hands, and puttering away in the background is Gattlin Griffith’s understated Henry. The direction is solid, the soundtrack fine and the cinematography strong, but beyond the unusual premise, the story is one-dimensional. Frank is too nice, and his arrival too perfectly resolves all the angst and longing that Adele and Henry have been feeling for years. Apart from a wry and unexpectedly funny girl that Henry meets in town (a brilliant Brighid Fleming), and Frank’s inevitable capture by the police, nothing rubs against the grain of happiness in Labor Day. If only Frank had turned on Adele once the police showed up.
Happily for Adele (if sadly for the film), he doesn’t, leaving Labor Day in need of some savoury relief – a sour note, a bitter aftertaste, an umami twist – something to cut through the sugary sweetness of Frank’s peach pie perfection.
Labor Day is released nationwide on 21st March 2014.
Watch the trailer for Labor Day here: