A film adaptation of the novel by Joyce Maynard (2009), it's a love story with an unusual plot and a unique set of characters. Adele, played by Kate Winslet, is a woman in her early 40s, a woman who has had the life drained from her body and is wearing her nerves on both sleeves. She's also mother to a 13-year old boy, Henry, played by Gattlin Griffith, a sensitive boy who has taken the role of man of the house since his father left to marry his secretary (a not-so-knew story, but this aspect will fit in unexpectantly).
From the beginning, Reitman's technique, from the script line to the camera work, you feel the edge and nervousness as Adele performs the most mundane tasks, from starting her car to shopping for clothes for her son in a generic, Walmart of a store set in a small New England town in the late 1980s. The divorce and the belief that her life as she knew it will never be again, that the dreams and passion she once had is no longer within her reach, this has left her shallow and empty, and somewhat on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Labor Day is the long weekend right before school. What was expected to be just another three days turns Adele and Henry's life in a 180 direction. An escaped convict, Frank, played by Josh Brolin, decides that the mother and son out shopping for school clothes will be his accomplices to a true escape. With the potential threat to her son's life, Adele agrees to drive Frank back to her house.
In this scene, and throughout Labor Day, Reitman pulls back the drapes, showing us surprising sides of the human condition within each character. A once timid mother turns mother bear, standing firm to protect her son at all costs. And a convict, now invading their home, shows kindness and a thought for their welfare, tying Adele up ever so gentley, as to only protect her from charges of harboring a fugitive.
Hours turn to days as Frank's ability to catch the train out of town turns futile. So he begins to take on chores, repairing things around the home and the car, even taking to the kitchen. The companionship that Adele has so longed for is now quickly overtaking her home and her heart. And the feeling is mutual.
As Reitman unveiled surprising aspects of the people within the film, he does so in telling the story of how Frank came to be incarcerated in the first place. Refraining from the use of spoiler alerts, I will suffice to say that Adele and Frank share one thing: being in love with love. They have both experienced great heartache, each being imprisoned in their own way by the result of the darker side of love's emotions. And now, they share in that despair and its passion. The color has once again returned to Adele's face and her edge has been softened.
And for Henry, this is the father he never had, one who takes the time to teach him how to change a tire, throw a baseball, and even how to bake the perfect peach pie. In the past few days, he too has gotten closer to this stranger than he has with his own, dinner-on-Sundays person he calls Dad. It also causes him concern, fearing that this family of two that he's shared with his mom could be in jepordy as this new man moves in.
But the life lesson Frank gives him, "Nothing misleads people like the truth" comes in quite handy and gets Henry and Adele out of a jam; just one of the small ways in which Frank has influenced Henry's life as much as he has his mother's.
Between the cinematography (the reflection Henry sees in his hand-held video game of Adele and Frank growing closer), the use of soundtrack inflections during close calls, and the pace at which the film's story unfolds, the suspense grows as we fear for Frank's ability to escape capture and a return to prison. The film pulls the viewer into a story that could be anyone's story, by a small or large margin, in some way, shape or form, and in a way that brings out the emphathy not only within each character, but within ourselves.
Is their hope for Adele and Frank to actually share a life together with Henry by their side?
See for yourself when Labor Day premiers at the Starz Denver Film Festival tomorrow night, Wednesday, November 6 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. The Red Carpet arrivals start at 7pm, with the film showing at 8pm. The after-party takes place at the McNichols Building starting at 10pm.