Directed by: Jason Reitman
This is something of a different kind of love story, in that it is one that is seen through the eyes of a teenage boy and the man he later becomes, as he observes his mother’s life slowly fall apart when his father abandons them both. Even though the young lad doesn’t quite understand all the varied nuances of what is occurring around him, he does his best to try and cope with the confusion of the world as he witnesses it. Throughout the course of the film, Henry (Griffith) looks back on his fateful 13th year, when he lived with his reclusive, divorced mother. At the start of Labor Day weekend, while on a rare excursion to town (his mom suffers from agoraphobia which we don’t fully learn until much later), Henry and his mother Adele Wheeler (Winslet) encounter an injured man Frank Chambers (Brolin), who asks for refuge in their home. Over the course of the next four days, they’re taken ‘hostage’ by the man who ultimately captures them, both body and soul.
The main action of the film occurs in 1987, when Adele, a depressed single mom and her 13-year-old son, Henry head into town. Due to a number of miscarriages, her husband leaving her for his secretary and probably a bout with (undiagnosed) clinical depression, Adele tends not to leave the house. While they are shopping, a Henry is approached by Frank and gently coerces them to take him back to their place. As it turns out, Frank is an escaped con who was jailed for the (accidental) murder of his own wife some years earlier). Once back at their place, Frank somehow manages to ingratiate himself into their lives, to the point where Adele starts falling for him and Henry begins to look on his as a substitute father figure.
To its credit, a goodly part of the film is told through wordless flashbacks, where it is revealed that Frank is a Vietnam veteran who returned home, and married his pregnant girlfriend, Mandy (Maika Monroe), who soon gave birth to their son. Perhaps still suffering from undiagnosed PTSD, a year after the baby's birth, Frank is suffering doubts as to the baby’s actual parentage, and fights with Mandy about it. During the fight, he accidentally pushes her against a radiator, resulting in her death. Simultaneously, the baby unattended in the tub, drowns and Frank is jailed for Mandy's murder.
Adele’s story is that after a number of miscarriages, she becomes withdrawn and fearful, causing her husband, Gregg, to become emotionally detached from both her and Henry, and seeking solace in the arms of his secretary. For his own part, Henry attempts to become the man (and husband) for his mom, caring for her, cooking, and caring for her. He feels disconnected from his absentee father, so when Frank shows up and starts doing the things that a dad is supposed to do (fix stuff, play catch with him, pay attention to his mom, cook, etc.) he naturally takes a shine to him. Frank, (who just had his appendix taken out at the hospital, and then hurt himself while escaping) initially wants to catch the next train out of town but is stymied by the holiday weekend train schedule, finds himself getting in involved with this family, in what can only turn out badly for everyone involved.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular articles and movie reviews.