Thursday 20 March 2014

Cinema Review - Labor Day

Almost ten years after the release of his impressive debut feature, Thank you for Smoking, Jason Reitman's career is still going from strength to strength, with his latest outing Labor Day continuing his trend for character-driven dramas that place his protagonists in unfamiliar and testing situations. Kate Winslett stars as a single mother, Adele, with all of her love focused on raising her adolescent son Henry, who is due to start high school in the coming days. The two appear to live a peaceful, if at times lonely, existence until this is shattered when an escaped convict, Frank - played by the suitably rugged Josh Brolin, stumbles into their life whilst fleeing from the police, and Adele begins to develop feelings for the seemingly innocuous criminal.

From the very start of the film there is a subtle air of menace which hints at the foreboding danger to come, as well as informing the audience that Labor Day is likely to tread a darker path than Reitman's previous outings. This it does, but not without demonstrating some of the director's lighter quirks, such as references to pop culture and his ability to rekindle vivid memories of a time now past. An E.T. poster in Henry’s bedroom and the family’s choice of film viewing, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, serve not only as a reminder of the era the story is set in but both films referenced also feature a single mother struggling to keep her family together when alien intruders arrive, and this is surely no coincidence.

Much like in these classic sci-fi films the intruder in Adele & Henry’s life initially appears dangerous, but Frank soon shows a warm and generous side that kindles a desire in Adele she long thought lost. Unable to escape to pastures new due to his injury, Frank is forced to hide from the police (and other visitors) until he is fully healed but when his relationship with Adele blossoms his inclination to move on lessens. Flashbacks to the reason for Frank’s incarceration slowly reveal his troubled past whilst adding depth to his character, and this heightens our concern for all three parties, raising the question as to whether this newly founded family unit will be able to make it through the difficult times ahead.

Winslett and Brolin are a joy to watch, as too is the young Gatlin Griffith, who confirms that he is an actor to keep an eye on in the future with his pitch perfect turn as Adele’s son Henry. Scenes with Henry and his estranged father towards the end of the film add an emotional note that is unexpected, as do the scenes he shares with Frank, proving that Reitman is an adept screenwriter as well as an accomplished director.

Amongst the current deluge of superhero films and children’s animations, it is refreshing to see an adult-orientated story that is firmly grounded in reality, whilst still providing enough unexpected turns to keep the audience firmly engrossed. Part coming of age drama, and part unlikely love story, Reitman perfectly balances these two elements to create a captivating picture that is sure to move all but the most cynical of viewers.


If you like this you will enjoy these:

The Notebook
Young Adult
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
The Kings of Summer

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