What makes a family? What does it take to overcome loneliness? What emotional roles can we actually fill in our family? These are just a few of the questions that Labor Day asks. Jason Reitman's new film is unlike anything he has made before, there is no whimsy, there is sarcasm, but there may be a bit of satire somewhere.
The story takes place over Labor Day weekend in 1987 and focuses on the single, divorced Adele (Winslet) and her son Henry (Griffith). The two lead an odd life. After her husband left, Adele went into a state of depression that keeps her from leaving her house except for a monthly trip to get supplies. Her son tries to be the man of the house, and in many ways he succeeds; except in one area, which would be inappropriate for him to try in the first place. This is how life moves for these two, an endless cycle of fear and longing that neither can fully escape. Then Frank (Brolin) shows up. Frank is a man on the run, and he manipulates his way into the house of Adele and Henry. During his time on the lamb, he and Adele begin to fall in love. And so our story goes.
As I mentioned, this is different from everything that Reitman has directed previously. This is purely a romantic-drama in the vein of The Notebook or The Time-Traveler's Wife. Except Reitman brings a measure of talent to the screenplay and to the director's chair that it surpasses any of those other films that we normally see in this genre. In stretching himself, we see a director who is fearless and capable of doing anything that he wants. Now, that isn't to say that Labor Day is a better film that Up in the Air or Thank You for Smoking, but it is certainly a more interesting and exciting effort than Young Adult. And it is because he is trying something new and different that we get such an interesting picture. On the surface this is a displacing picture, but in moving beyond that you begin to see many of the writing traits that Reitman is known for: character depth, dialogue, and thematic work.
I also have to mention the cinematography and score. This movie looks beautiful and the score is a brilliant addition to the film. Finally, I have to mention the actors. Brolin and Winslet share a phenomenal chemistry and they are constantly vying to steal scenes. Winslet is arguably one of the greatest actresses currently working and Brolin provides a solid effort himself. Adele begins as a fragile, weak leaf, but as Frank enters the picture we begin to see this confidence return to her and she becomes a strong, beautiful woman and Winslet does a great job in balancing those different traits and flows flawlessly from one to the next.
This is certainly a romantic drama, but it is nothing like every other recent entry in to the genre. Reitman urges this movie to rise above and it does. The movie is worth seeing for the acting alone. But do not dare dismiss it because of the genre it falls in to, nor because of the stylistic chance that Reitman took.
Final Decree: This is a perfect date movie for a night out. I think it is also a layered movie that demands multiple viewings to fully realize what exactly is being said. I highly recommend seeing this film and also recommend watching the rest of Reitman's films. The man doesn't make bad movies.