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Labor Day review: Kate Winslet's long hot summer

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Director: Jason Reitman; Screenwriter: Jason Reitman; Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tobey Maguire, JK Simmons; Running time: 111 mins; Certificate: 12A


Despite getting a critical hammering in the States, it turns out that romantic drama Labor Day isn't all that bad. As the respective hostage taker and his captive homemaker, Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet may seem like a bad match on paper, but they each take a sincere approach - inspired by characters who have little to lose - and this creates a bond that helps tie the film together.

Otherwise, adapting the novel by Joyce Maynard feels like it may have been hard work for writer/director Jason Reitman. It's new ground for the man behind Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult and Thank You For Smoking - films where an edge of cynicism helps cut through the sentimentalism. In this case, Reitman appears to be angling for the sultry, sexy undertones of Tennessee Williams and occasionally tripping into Nicholas Sparks territory.

It's one of those long, hot summers in a small New Hampshire town, 1987, when Frank (Brolin) busts out of jail and - quite bizarrely - stops by the local supermarket where he troubles Adele (Winslet) for a ride. She's a nervous shut-in since her husband ditched her and rarely has guests over - especially ones who are bleeding from flesh wounds - but Frank muscles his way in so he can hide out for a while. And gosh, those muscles sure are big...

Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin in Labor Day

© Paramount


This cosy siege is recalled by Adele's 13-year-old son Henry (a soulful turn by Gattlin Griffith) whose innocence offers light relief from the building heat. He knows mum yearns for male company, bringing his own sense of inadequacy into focus; a coming of age that plays in parallel with Adele's own reawakening.

By and large Reitman handles both strands with sensitivity and good humour, but Henry's greenness could have leavened the parts where Brolin is made to act out a housewife's fantasy - doing DIY and baking delicious peach desserts that require lots of hard kneading (move over, Paul Hollywood).

Kate Winslet in Labor Day

© Paramount

Kate Winslet as Adele

Winslet excels at quiet desperation and it's pivotal to this story, but after the inevitable happens (keeping Henry awake at night), Brolin can afford to kick back a little and the romance unfolds at a more leisurely pace. At the same time, claustrophobia mounts as the police search intensifies and attention turns to plotting an escape. Again, Henry's insecurities get the better of him, believing mum might leave him to go on the lam with Frank and, inadvertently, he threatens to foil their plan.

Reitman can up the stakes when necessary, but the pace is slowed by looking back. Frank's crime is dissected in snippets throughout the film and Adele is also burdened by events in her recent past. Unfortunately, these elements don't all come together as smoothly as Frank's pie dough and the way loose ends are tied at the very end (with Tobey Maguire as the grown-up Henry) doesn't remedy that. But there is a good film here, if you can get past the stodge.

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