But, while their strength holds up, Labor Day falls flat. Winslet plays Adele, a depressed single mom in the late 1980s, raising her son Henry and generally never leaving the house. While out shopping for new clothes for Henry, a strange and intimidating man named Frank (Brolin) all but threatens the two into taking him home where he can rest up his injured leg.
Surprise! Turns out he’s a convicted killer fresh off a prison escape and needs to lay low for the night.
As the story unfolds over a Labor Day weekend, we see the characters develop and grow, albeit a little too quickly in such a short amount of time with way too much melodrama for such a sappy plot. A spark lights anew in Adele’s eyes, and Frank plays Mr. Fix-it, slowly winning his way into Adele’s heart and stepping in as a father figure to Henry.
Visually, Reitman appeases us with beautiful warm autumn colors and slow, panning movements across suburban Massachusetts. Rolfe Kent composes the soundtrack, making this the fourth collaboration for him and Reitman: The others include Thank You for Smoking, Up in the Air, and Young Adult.
The film is all well and good and a little too Harlequin romance novelesque. A tall, dark, and handsome man with a dangerous yet misunderstood past – a lonely, broken, aging woman who thought all had been lost. An impressionable boy just hitting puberty. You do the math: this one’s about the performances, not the story.
Winslet gives it her all as a depression-riddled mother, though at times the dreariness was just too much to take. Brolin is his usual Brolin self, his physical presence just enough to up the ante and compound his role as weekend stepdad. And Gattlin Griffith, who plays Henry, does a decent enough job to carry the movie along, but he’s nothing special just yet. Give him some time.
With supporting appearances from Tobey Maguire (who narrates), James Van der Beek, and Tom Lipinski (who bears a scary resemblance to a young Brolin – excellent casting) Labor Day rounds out well. Just don’t expect many emotional stirs or racy plotlines – we’ve seen it all before.