Based on Joyce Maynard’s novel of the same name, the action in “Labor Day” begins when a wounded, escaped criminal (Josh Brolin) hides out in the home of two strangers, Adele (Kate Winslet), a depressed divorcee and her thirteen year old son Henry (Gattlin Griffith). What begins as a hostage situation slowly changes as the stranger’s sensitive side is revealed and he becomes a surrogate father figure for Henry and companion for Adele.
It’s been said that ninety percent of the director’s job is casting, and on that score director Jason Reitman has knocked it out of the park. “Labor Day” is essentially a three hander with Winslet, Brolin and Griffith responsible for the emotional weight of the movie.
Griffith is convincing as a youngster abruptly placed in the position of son and surrogate spouse, but it is the leads who really carry the movie. Winslet is delicate and effective as the world-weary Adele while Brolin hands in another of his manly man performances, tempered by a hidden sensitive side that manifests itself in many ways.
He does chores around the house, cooks, becomes a stand-in dad to Henry and in one scene, which is sure to divide audiences, he teaches Adele to bake a peach pie.
I liked the pie sequence. I don’t want to give anything away for people who haven’t seen the movie, but imagine the scene from “Ghost” with pastry instead of pottery and you’ll get the idea. It’s just wonky enough to spice up the story, and I thought Brolin pulled it off. Of all the leading men out there right now he’s the only one I can think of to have the old school Lee Marvin grit to still look badass while folding pastry.
The movie takes place over one long weekend and takes its time developing the relationship between Adele and the mysterious stranger. Because Reitman is very deliberate in his storytelling it’s a bit more believable than the story might otherwise have been. You’re left with the question, “Is it Stockholm Syndrome or true love?”
Either way, it is a compelling, if slightly far-fetched tale, of the kinds of connections people make.