A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Labor Day is a romantic drama centering on an escaped convict and a lonely single mother with more discussion of sex than actual scenes of it (although there are brief flashbacks to a young couple making love, while mostly clothed, and some late-night sex noises a teenager overhears). There's a hint of violence when a man gruffly grabs a teenager or a woman, but the more disturbing scenes involve flashbacks to accidental deaths and a string of sad miscarriages. There are some uplifting messages about how people can fall in love and affect one another in just a few days, but there's also confusing messages about harboring a fugitive because he could be the love of your life.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Based on author Joyce Maynard's 2009 romance, LABOR DAY is narrated by an adult Henry Wheeler recalling the summer when he was a sensitive 13-year-old (Gattlin Griffith) looking after his depressed single mother Adele (Kate Winslet), a woman who only leaves the house once a month. On their monthly supply run, Henry runs into Frank (Josh Brolin), a bleeding escaped convict who forces Adele to give him a ride to her house. Over the course of the five-day Labor Day weekend, Frank reveals himself to be an expert handyman, chili maker, pie baker, father figure to Henry and love interest for Adele. As the authorities continue to look for Frank, Henry and Adele must decide to what lengths they will go to secure their newfound sense of family.
Is it any good?
It's unclear what director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) is trying to accomplish with this well-cast piece of treacle. Maybe he wanted to show he could direct an earnest film and still keep his cred as a brave and innovative director. But the result is a movie so overly sincere, melodramatic, and emotionally manipulative it makes The Bridges of Madison County seem edgy by comparison. It doesn't help that Reitman tries so hard to insert Terrence Malick-esque shots with natural light, close-ups of trees and grass and stillness. Only, it doesn't work. Even with the amazing cast, Reitman has only succeeded in making his worst movie to date.
Sure, this will play well with a segment of the population that likes poignant, doomed romances, and it must be admitted that there are brief moments when the heart-tugging and the drama will overcome even the most jaded moviegoer (particularly when it involves Henry and Adele). But those instances last for a few beats, and then you realize that the overwrought material (a Stockholm Syndrome love story) just isn't a good fit for Reitman's skills as a filmmaker, and it's certainly not fitting of actors of Winslet and Brolin's caliber. The movie is at its best when it deals with the mother-and-son relationship, and it's worst when it flashes back to the tragedies of Adele's and Frank's younger selves. Ultimately, it's such an uneven drama it leaves you dangerously devoid of emotion when it's done, except for perhaps frustration.
Talk to your kids about ...
1. Families can talk about the movie's message about love and sex. How does longing for love affect the characters? What are the implications of showing a woman finding her soulmate while harboring an escaped criminal?
2. The movie asserts that lives can be forever changed in just a few days. Do you agree with this? Is the epilogue believable?
3. What are some other romantic dramas in which the couple falls in love almost immediately? How do those love stories compare to Labor Day?
- In theaters: January 31, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: April 29, 2014
- Cast: Clark Gregg, Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet
- Director: Jason Reitman
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 111 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic material, brief violence and sexuality
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