Film Review: Labor Day (M) (USA, 2013)


Long weekends don’t usually end up changing your life.

Henry is in that tricky period of being 13 years old and belies wisdom beyond his years in choosing to live with his single mother Adele who is coping with depression, played by a beautifully elegiac Kate Winslet. The story is set in 1987 and revolves around the events of their Labor Day weekend that year, wherein an escaped convict by the name of Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin) profoundly affects their lives by a simple request.

Undoubtedly a mood piece, the film is driven incredibly smoothly by the unsettling lull of the soundtrack. What might appear to be a typical scene in a shopping market is permeated by composer Rolfe Kent’s keen suspension of melody, creating a weight of beauty and suspicion to each shot and every montage. It is hard to imagine the film being half as effective with the soundtrack removed; its minimalism complements the actors’ every gesture perfectly. Even more so than the editing, the music paces the movie. Coupled with a style of cinematography that is gracious in its measured camera movement and attention to detail, Labor Day truly sucks you in from the get-go.

From the perspective of the wide-eyed and malleable Henry, we see the perfect father emerge in the form of Frank. It’s a bittersweet tension that drives the characters and each action is measured, accounted for by their history and believability. Brolin reveals Chambers’ warmth under his cover of steady determination pitch-perfectly, building a performance that exudes both physical and soulful attractiveness to Adele and fatherly competency to Henry; Gattlin Griffith has the ability to express the protagonist’s angst with humour, earnestness and confusion all at once, rolled into a delicately doe-eyed performance.

The story isn’t complicated, but the adept and concise writing allows the characters to become fleshed out and their complexities impel what never feels like a slow film. What’s great about it is that it never lingers longer than it has to; a flash of a bare shoulder in the blurry foreground tells you all you need to know, and with a script that could easily have fallen into unnecessary, dragged-out sentimentality, or exaggerated emotion, it’s quite an achievement to have paced it into something akin to magic. It is definitely a quiet magic that envelops these characters, who bear accidents like any other human being, and make mistakes – whether it be in the silliness of youth or the heat of passion. Somehow, skilfully, Labor Day ends up encapsulating the full, whole lives of those who live in our world of disappointment and beauty, and emerge the better for it. It’s a love letter to love. But as with everything, just don’t expect things to go the way you expect them to.

Duration: 111 Minutes
Rated: M

Labor Day is released nationally on Thursday, February 6th.


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