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Movie Review: ‘Labor Day’

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Labor Day takes five days in the life of a young boy–every detail, from domestic duties to playing baseball–and tells a story baked to perfection. Although the film did not get a lot of attention in theatres, Labor Day is a drama that will make you want to hug your family and try your hand at pie-making. Based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, the film will make you want to run out and purchase the book.

Adele (Kate Winslet) is a lonely single mother afraid to leave her home for the heartache of losing a child and a husband that plagues her daily life. Her 13-year-old son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) desperately tries to fill the role of man-of-the-house in an attempt to soothe Adel’s aching heart, but he realizes that he will never be able to fulfill her longing for romantic love. When the shaking Adele goes to the store with her son they find themselves at the hands of Frank, a forceful escaped convict, (Josh Brolin) seeking refuge.

Frank appears to be a hardened criminal looking to do nothing more than use Adele and Henry, but he soon wins them over with his unlikely affinity for family. He ties Adele gently to a chair to make it look as though she were being held hostage and whips up an unusual chili using the various ingredients available in the kitchen, including coffee. Frank then spoon feeds helpless Adele, carefully blowing on every bite before bringing it to her lips. At this point it is apparent that there is more to Frank’s story, and there must be another explanation for his charges of murder. When the time comes for Frank to flea by way of a train 20 minutes from their suburban home, Adele and Henry encourage him to stay.

Over the next four days, the three become a family. Frank teaches Henry to play baseball and fix up cars and he heals Adele’s wounded heart. However, throughout the movie there are flashbacks to Frank’s unfortunate past, explaining in bits and pieces how he came to be a fugitive and alluding to how Henry and Adele are healing his heart as well. After only a few days, Adele decides she wants to flee with Frank to Canada and have her happily-ever-after, but Henry is afraid his mother plans to leave him and that soon her relationship to Frank will consume her time completely. In fear of losing his mother, Henry writes a letter to his father and confides in his eccentric friend Eleanor (Brighid Fleming) the specifics of his mother’s relationship that lead her to find out he and his mother have been harboring a fugitive.

As the beginning of the school year nears for Henry, the three hastily prepare for their trip, but not without suspicion. Pushy local policeman Officer Treadwell (James Van Der Beek) sees Henry walking and insists he drive him home. When Treadwell sees Adele packing boxes into her station wagon he questions her and forces the two to let him help move boxes. On the day of the move and the first day of school Adele accompanies Henry to the bank to withdraw most of her money, which only furthers suspicion. When the two return home, they hear the sirens of police vehicles approaching. Frank ties the two up to make it look as though they were being held hostage, and he is taken back to prison. Adele is devastated by his absence, sinks deeper into depression, and gives up custody of her son. Henry remembers all that Frank taught him and he seems to continue looking up to him as a father figure, despite his own father being in the picture now that his mother is unable to take care of him. Frank eventually gets out of prison and Adele gets her happily ever after.

Let’s not forget about the pie. Pie is one of the most heartrending parts of this movie, because it brings the characters together. In the beginning of their relationship, Frank is almost caught when a neighbor (J.K. Simmons) comes over with a basket of peaches for Adele. Adele says it’s too bad she can never get through all the peaches before they go bad, and then handsome Brolin’s character makes a positively delicious looking pie with the peaches. The pie making scene is familial, shared among the three of them, but also oddly sensual as Brolin takes Winslet’s hands in his and covers the peaches in sugar. When Henry grows up he too makes a similar pie, and opens his own pie shop. Isn’t that just too sweet?

The cinematography in this film is also something to brag about. The camera shots are beautiful, and do a lot to captivate the audience as well as tell the story visually. The flashbacks were well done with little dialogue, portraying the emotion through what’s happening in the scene. The movie is set in 1987, which the sets portray well with the movie posters, appliances, and clothing. The overall effect of the images in this film makes the audience feel like they know this small New Hampshire town.

If you are looking for something to make you evaluate life and love and give you hope for new beginnings, then this is just the movie to speak to your soul. The enchantment of this movie cannot be attributed to just one thing, because it is so well balanced between acting and imagery to tell the story.


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About Victoria Garten

Victoria is a professional writing student at the University of Oklahoma. She is interested in writing reviews of any kind, but particularly movies, and food and drink reviews. She is also interested in how-to articles. She has a blog called Adventures in Life and Fiction where she writes mostly fiction stories.