Based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day is set in a small town in New England, with most of the story taking place over the Labor Day long weekend in 1987.
Through the eyes of the camera, the audience is introduced to the speed and efficiency of the New England county, which is immediately juxtaposed with the sleepy pace of Holton Hills, where mum Adele (Kate Winslet) lives with her young son Henry (Gattlin Griffin).
The story is narrated by the adult Henry (Tobey Maguire), reflecting back over his childhood and, in particular, the events of that fateful Labor Day weekend. Henry is sensitive and thoughtful; a boy forced to make psychological and emotional assessments and adaptations beyond his years, feeling he must compensate for his single mother’s loneliness, longing and neglect.
A troubled Adele lives much of her life in the confines of the family home, but a rare trip to the store leads to an impromptu meeting with the injured and opportunistic escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin). He corners Henry and conjures the support he needs to avoid capture and take refuge in their home.
The film moves at a deliberately slow pace, providing an opportunity for the audience to monitor young Henry’s thoughts and feelings.
Adele makes it clear that her son’s safety is her first priority and Frank promises he will not harm them, saying he only needs a place to hide for a few hours. However, his efforts around the home – doing repairs, cooking dinner and showing Henry how to play ball – instigate a gentle unravelling of the separate stories that brought each of them to this point in their lives.
Each character portrays a particular hunger, desirous of some human empathy and compassion which is made possible by this unexpected series of events.
Directed by Jason Reitman – whose previous films include Thank You for Smoking and Up in the Air – Labor Day poignantly depicts how childhood events can shape people. It suggests that as we find the courage to face life’s challenges and put these into perspective, the lines between good and bad and right and wrong are often blurred.
© Patricia Herreen 2014