If you were going to get kidnapped and held hostage in your own home over a sleepy bank holiday weekend it would be nice if the escaped convict did all those niggling odd jobs around the house, made your dinner at the end of the day and promise to run away to a better life rather than terrified you into submission. It would be nice but would probably need a high degree of suspension of disbelief for such sentimentality, as happens in Labor Day. Seen through the eyes of 13 year old Hank, perhaps in a soft-edged memory, he and his single-mother, Adele are kidnapped and then come to love their captor, Frank: one to escape the fear of loneliness and hurt, the other to escape the disappointment of an absent father-figure. With severe depression bordering on agoraphobia and a teenage outsider, Frank picks his vulnerable victims well.
The tension of violence is an undercurrent that builds with the montages and flashbacks of Frank’s story, which runs alongside that of the Labor Day weekend. The film opens with scenes of Hank being the ‘husband’ to his own mother, taking her a cup of tea in bed, running her a bath, doing the errands. This is a woman who wants to be loved, who has had love taken away and as much as the story wants to be about love but there is an uncomfortable feeling bubbling under the surface. This build up is done with great speed and subtly to move the action to emotional binds built through baking and basesball.
Then there is the food, which runs as a glaring, signposted metaphor throughout. Ghost has its potters wheel scene, Labor Day its peach pie scene; which is the nearest you are going to get to sex throughout the film. The peach pie was the pinnacle of food metaphors in Labor Day and the ensuing connotations about wholesome, American family life; the pie being Frank, salted on the outside, sweet and soft inside that no one can see; the family as a whole needing a roof, being assembled together. Before Frank, Adele and Hank lived off canned goods and frozen foods which were brought back to life with the fresh, tactile cooking when Frank entered their world.
Kate Winslet plays the very submissive female lead of Adele incredibly well, showing her quick escalation from an almost catatonic state into pure fear while trying to hide this from her son. Yet it was 13 year-old Hank, played by Gattlin Griffith, who took on the bulk of the film and moved the drama.
Labor Day is laced with sticky, sweet sentimentality as it was; it was beautifully shot and acted but a stride away from the usual Jason Reitman films and ensuing expectations. Adele and Hank were outsiders looking for their place in the world and found it with an ultimate outsider, Frank. This film needs to be watched with suspending belief at how realistic reactions to the situation are and be led by voice of Hank and his memory of the pivotal moment in his life, making him the adult he became.
This was viewed at a special complimentary screening with thanks to Mumsnet and Paramount Pictures.