Sunday, February 09, 2014
Based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day is the story about an escaped fugitive who takes over the home of an agoraphobic woman and her son where they form an unlikely family in the wake of a woman’s divorce from her husband. Written for the screen and directed by Jason Reitman, the film is about a Labor Day weekend in 1987 as it’s reflected from the perspective of a man who looks back at this crucial period in his young life as he is played and narrated by Tobey Maguire. Also starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Clark Gregg, Brooke Smith, James Van Der Beek, Alexie Gilmore, Maika Monroe, and Gattlin Griffin. Labor Day is a compelling yet mesmerizing film from Jason Reitman.
The film is a simple story about a woman and her 13-year old son who harbor an escaped fugitive in their home in the course of Labor Day weekend in 1987. Much of it is told from a young boy named Henry Wheeler (Gattlin Griffin) as he lives with his agoraphobic, divorced mother Adele (Kate Winslet) where the adult Henry reflects on that time. Especially as the fugitive in Frank (Josh Brolin) was a man who had been serving an 18-year prison sentence for murder where he escaped from a hospital and held both Henry and Adele hostage. Though Frank would admit to his guilt, he reveals that there’s more to the story as he brings some life back to Adele who is still ravaged by her divorce as well as other things. Even as he helps Henry out with some things as he is coming of age.
Jason Reitman’s screenplay does create a very tender and thoughtful love story involving Frank and Adele but also play into their respective past as they’re both two people that have been damaged by tragedy. The former of which is a man who had a good life when he was a young man (Tom Lipinski) with a woman named Mandy (Maika Monroe) but dark truths led to Frank’s incarceration. Some aspects in the film’s screenplay which reveals Frank and Adele’s past life in flashbacks definitely creates a narrative that is a bit messy since the film is told from Henry’s perspective. Still, Reitman does manage to find ways to make the drama to be very interesting as well as some few moments of suspense where Frank and Adele decide to run away with Henry in tow.
Reitman’s direction has him going into a much more restrained approach as the film does mark a departure of his previous work. Yet, there are images that he creates that are truly mesmerizing as it’s shot on location in parts of Massachusetts and a town in New Hampshire to give the film a small town feel. Even as Reitman keeps much of the compositions and framing to be very simple but also very engaging for the way he places the actors in the frame and in playing out the drama. Reitman’s attention to detail in some of the smaller moments such as a scene where Frank, Adele, and Henry bake a peach pie as well the trio planning to run away though Henry is hesitant about what is happening. While some of the script’s messiness as well as an overly-drawn out ending does falter the film. Reitman does manage to create a pretty engaging and thoughtful drama about a woman and her son harboring a kind fugitive.
Cinematographer Eric Steelberg does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography with its approach to natural lighting for much of the film‘s exterior daytime scenes along with some low-key lighting for some of the interior/exterior scenes at night. Editor Dana E. Glauberman does excellent work with the editing with its use of jump-cuts and montages to play out some of the drama as well as the pie-making scene and flashbacks. Production designer Steve Saklad, along with set decorator Tracey A. Doyle and art director Mark Robert Taylor, does fantastic work with the set pieces from the home that Adele and Henry live with some of the decorations that play into the world of the 1980s.
Costume designer Danny Glicker does nice work with the clothes as it plays to something more casual as well as some of the flashbacks of Adele and Frank in the clothes they were in the 60s and 70s. Visual effects supervisor Scott M. Davids does good work in the few visual effects that plays into Henry‘s coming-of-age as he becomes fascinated by the idea of sex. Sound editors Perry Robertson and Scott Sanders does superb work with the film‘s sound as it plays to some of the atmosphere of the locations as well as the way conversations are heard from Henry‘s perspective. The film’s music by Rolfe Kent is brilliant for its mixture of ambient music with folk and plaintive piano pieces to play into some of the melancholia while music supervisor Randall Poster brings in a soundtrack that features some classical, samba, and a folk song from Arlo Guthrie.
The casting by Jessica Kelly and Suzanne Smith is incredible for the ensemble that is used as it features appearances from James Van Der Beek as a police officer, Brighid Fleming as a young girl that Henry meets who had just moved into town and give Henry some dark thoughts about Frank, Alexie Gilmore as Henry’s stepmother Marjorie, Tom Lipinski as a young Frank, Micah Fowler as a mentally-disabled neighbor kid Henry and Adele looked over, Brooke Smith as that boy’s mother, and Reitman regular J.K. Simmons as a neighbor who would give Henry peaches. Clark Gregg is terrific as Henry’s father who left Adele for his secretary and started a family of his own as he becomes concerned about Henry and Adele’s situation unaware of Frank’s presence. Maika Monroe is wonderful as Frank’s wife Mandy who would be the cause of Frank’s grief and incarceration.
Tobey Maguire is excellent in his small role as the adult Henry as he only appears in its ending yet maintains a good presence as the film’s narrator. Gattlin Griffith is superb as the young Henry as a 13-year old boy trying to understand his mother’s melancholia as well as trying to observe Frank as it’s a very understated and engaging performance that manages to be in the same line with his co-stars. Josh Brolin is fantastic as Frank as an escaped fugitive who kidnaps Adele and Henry yet manages to mean well as he is one that is kind and generous while wanting to find some redemption for his actions as it’s a very sensitive and touching performance from Brolin. Finally, there’s Kate Winslet in a radiant performance as Adele Wheeler as a troubled, agoraphobic woman who only goes out once a month as she finds some comfort in the presence of Frank while trying to be a mother to Henry as it’s a very chilling yet evocative performance from Winslet.
While it is a flawed film, Labor Day is still a stellar film from Jason Reitman thanks in part to the performances of Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, and Gattlin Griffith. Though it is a very different film in comparison to the previous films that Reitman has done, it does showcase a filmmaker trying to do something out of his comfort zone though not everything is successful. In the end, Labor Day is a terrific film from Jason Reitman.
Jason Reitman Films: Thank You for Smoking - Juno - Up in the Air - Young Adult - (Men, Women, & Children) - The Auteurs #30: Jason Reitman
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