Henry: They were two people who couldn’t go out into the world so they made a world with each other.
Jason Reitman’s fifth film, LABOR DAY, is a labour of love for the acclaimed director and unfortunately just plain laborious for an audience to sit through. So much is being asked of the viewer, not only to buy the film’s premise but also to buy the love that is supposed to grow out of that premise. Reitman tries his hardest, and he brings in big talent like Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin to drive it home, but despite all the talent working to make the film great, it just felt like an experiment to me while watching, not one that fails completely, but it would be almost as big a stretch as the aforementioned premise to call it successful on any level.
Winslet plays Adele, a woman living with severe anxiety and depression that manifests itself as agoraphobia when at its worst, who is raising her teenage son, Henry (Gaittlin Griffith), all on her own, her husband having already left years earlier. On one fateful day where she actually braves leaving the house, she and her son are abducted in a department store by an escaped convict named Frank (Brolin). His approach is as gentlemanly as is possible when direct threats are being made and I believe we are meant to feel that there is a connection of sorts between these two lonely individuals. He holds them prisoner in their home with the intent of making a break for it when it seems safe enough for him to do so. No one is tied up and the threats have dissipated almost entirely so while they wait for the perfect moment to arrive, he cooks for them. By the time the newly forced, I mean, formed family unit all comes together to make a pie, there is no turning back. They are all in this together now. Let this be a lesson to shut-ins everywhere – you may be taken hostage if you leave the house for a mundane task but you may also meet your soulmate!
The question becomes, and rather blatantly at that, is this real love or is this Stockholm Syndrome? Winslet and Brolin work their hardest to convey genuine emotion between them so I suspect Reitman wants us to buy this as real love. That said, even if it is, are we really supposed to root for them as a couple given the relationship’s roots? Even if they weren’t both already so terribly lonesome and clearly latching on to the first person that has caught either of their eyes for years, any notion of his former criminal life is eradicated from the conversation. I understand that love is a complex emotion but no matter how much effort Reitman places into making LABOR DAY into a drastic departure from his previous work (JUNO, UP IN THE AIR), we are never so immersed that we forget all that work at hand. In the end, there is just no way to celebrate this love story because it just isn’t love.