The romantic drama told more for the adult demographic has seemed in recent years to be something that is elusive for filmmakers. It either is reduced to art house cinema or has some gaps in its believability despite its best intentions. To the credit of Labor Day there does appear to be some good in it at least as far as the main storytellers are involved.
From the bestselling novel by Joyce Maynard, Jason Reitman adapted a screenplay and directed in his follow-up to Young Adult. Set in 1987 Massachusetts, Adele (Kate Winslet, The Reader) is a single mother who is depressed and isolated, to the point of almost being agoraphobic. However, she manages with lots of support from her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith, Changeling). On a trip to the supermarket, Henry runs into Frank (Josh Brolin, Gangster Squad), who is not only bleeding from his side and limping, but we find out has escaped prison. Frank asks Adele and Henry to take him to their home, but does so in a way that is soft-spoken yet strong, and they acquiesce. Over the course of a long weekend, they all learn more about each other and Adele and Frank develop a relationship in the process.
For Labor Day , it could be easy to generalize or even dismiss the movie as being a romance. However, while other inferior movies of the genre tend to focus on the relationship and how the two characters come together, Reitman puts more of the attention into why Frank and Adele fall for one another and how strong this connection between them is shared. This is summarized to the point of Frank continuing to flee across the border and Adele not only wanting to go with him but taking Henry along as part of it. Admittedly, Henry does not seem as down for that last part as Frank and Adele were hoping for. While it may seem like Frank and Adele's relationship with one another casts aside some of the other things in Adele's life (specifically Henry), you learn why it is that they share such strong feelings for one another. It starts early on when one of Frank's first actions when he gets to their house is to make chili for Adele and Henry. He has tied Adele to a chair by this point, but this is done for the sake of any story or inquisition by authorities if it came to that. He very clearly has no intention of animosity to them. In fact, he is more than willing to help them rather than hurt.
To his credit Brolin, who I have never really considered as much of a romantic lead, handles the Frank character better than you could expect. Frank is a tender guy who has been forced into an environment he may not have been suited for, and while there are moments that he does what he can do to stay alive, he is a sweet-hearted guy for the most part. The chemistry that Brolin has with Winslet is also a nice surprise, and Winslet's performance matches Brolin stride for stride, and Reitman captures their blossoming romance effectively, nuance and all.
As enchanting and even enjoyable as the developing relationship between Frank and Adele is, when we actually learn the unfortunate incidents that seem to connect them, things get a little…awkward. The source of Adele's depression seems to come out of nowhere and there seems to be no holding back in terms of its tragedy, and Frank's path to jail is a little less melodramatic but trite compared to Adele's. I recall looking at my wife in open-mouthed shock at what it is they were revealing, and the last time I had a reaction like that, I was disappointed. I remain so after watching Labor Day and the disclosure of its secret.
There are bits and piece of Labor Day that I find appealing, chief among them being the performances of Brolin and Winslet both separated and together with one another, and their chemistry feels like a callback to romantic leads of the ‘50s in its tender nature and its acceptance of each other's flaws. It is everything after that and in the last 20 minutes that is the difficult part and detracts from what could have been a pleasant cinematic surprise.
The AVC encode which accompanies this 2.35:1 high-definition transfer is quite good. Image detail is abundant and consistent through the film, be it the Massachusetts countryside foliage or in closer shots of Brolin's pores. You see sweat bead quite easily on faces and fibers in window sheers or grains in wood on the doors. The color palette is reproduced nicely and flesh tones are natural and accurate, as well as flesh tones. All in all Paramount has given the film an excellent presentation.
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround comprises Labor Day, sounding natural and with little objection. The film is dialogue-driven and sounds consistent and well balanced for the most part, though there is a moment or two where the leads' hushed vocal tones require some adjustment. Moments of directional effects and channel panning are present though scant, but the subwoofer fires a touch more than one would expect, perhaps to accentuate the score from Rolfe Kent. Overall, the film sounds good, almost as up to the task as the transfer is.
Reitman, Jason Blumenfeld (who co-produced Labor Day with Reitman as well as was first assistant director) and cinematographer Eric Steelburg team up for a commentary on the film that is solid. They get into some scene breakdown and discuss the equipment used in a particular shot and the locations they eventually picked for the shoot. They also talk about some of the previous film inspiration used for Labor Day and some thoughts on the cast off set that many may not know. While there are some gaps of silence during the track as they appear to be viewing the movie, they possess good recall on the production (the track was recorded five months ago, between the film's Toronto premiere and its eventual release), it is an effective complement to the film and worth listening to, particularly for fans of the director. Next is "End of Summer" (29:06), a look at the making of the film that includes some miscellaneous items from the feature and interviews with the cast and crew on their thoughts on the material and on Reitman as a director. Casting the younger characters is recounted and other details such as the wardrobe, location and music are touched on. It is a good piece in and of itself. Six deleted scenes (10:36) include some more with Henry and Eleanor but otherwise can be skipped, There is also a standard definition disc (the source of the screen grabs) at a code for a digital copy of the film for Ultraviolet and iTunes services.
In Labor Day Jason Reitman provides ample opportunity for his leads to shine and while they do well, they seem to be let down by the final act, which suffers from pacing problems, and faults in execution and the source material. Technically, the disc looks and sounds great, and the bonus material while minimal, is effective in its complement to the film. Definitely worth a rental to see what the leads and director are up to recently, but would discourage any long-term relationship to this.