Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Maika Monroe.
“It was just the two of us after my father left,” explains 13-year-old Henry Wheeler (Gattlin Griffith).
Once a month, the teenager ventures out for supplies with his depressed mother Adele (Kate Winslet) but, for the most part, she remains indoors, haunted by ghosts of her failed marriage.
During a visit to the local Pricemart with his mother, Henry encounters a bloodied stranger called Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin). Under duress, Adele and her son take Frank into their home and tend to his wounds.
That night, a television news report reveals the intimidating man is an escaped prisoner serving 18 years for the murder of his girlfriend (Maika Monroe). “It didn’t happen that way,” growls Frank.
The fugitive lays low at the Wheeler homestead and adopts the role of surrogate father, offering Adele a second chance at happiness. Adapted from the novel by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day woos us with stirring performances, Eric Steelberg’s sun-dappled cinematography and Rolfe Kent’s elegiac orchestral score.
Scenes between Winslet and Brolin as the doomed lovers simmer with eroticism including a glorious set-piece with a homemade peach pie that makes our pulses quicken and mouths water. Fifteen-year-old rising star Griffith is equally compelling as the painfully shy teenage son, who witnesses this mending of broken hearts in impossible circumstances.
Yet for all of its impressive qualities, Jason Reitman’s handsome picture isn’t quite the sum of its parts. The condensed timeframe of the central romance strains credibility and the mosaic of flashbacks and reminiscence hampers dramatic momentum, dissipating the sense of dread and longing that should permeate every impeccably crafted frame.