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Labor Day
Genre Drama

Labor Day is an adaptation of Joyce Maynard's coming-of-age novel about a young boy, who recounts his 13th year as Labor Day weekend approaches. While the story is told from the teenager's perspective, it's really about his mother and a fugitive, who enters their lives after coercing them to shelter him from police.

Maynard's novel is commended for turning an "ominous setup into a convincing and poignant coming-of-age tale". This sleight of hand proved to be just as tricky for Juno and Up in the Air director, Jason Reitman, at the helm of Labor Day. Shifting the weight of the story from one foot to the other required sensitive direction and fine performances.

For the most part, Reitman succeeds in making the transition without the film becoming too uneven. He keeps his composure allowing various genre elements to seep in without upsetting the heartwarming tone of the drama. With the help of strong performances from Revolutionary Road's Kate Winslet and No Country for Old Men's Josh Brolin, he's able to smooth over the inherent sentimentality and tendency towards schmaltz.

It's a tough balancing act, but Labor Day manages to entertain with mystery, thriller and even romantic elements emerging from a not-so-simple hostage drama. We're invested in the characters, wanting redemption and restoration in a dire situation that seems like the next best thing to divine intervention.

Labor Day's myriad of themes keep the character dynamics interesting as they try to engender trust and keep their cover. In many ways, it feels like a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, yet remains more aloof and insular. As you'd expect, most of the film centres on the hideout, making this story also worthy of a stage adaptation.

Reitman's treatment does pluck at heartstrings and those expecting a film in-line with his previous work will be surprised or disappointed. This is a heartwarming and intimate drama. It's not an award-winning film, but a personal one. Just when it feels like he's letting it out too much, he reels us back in with a situation that feels all the more real thanks to solid performances and a redemptive spirit.

The film probably would have been more powerful if it had contained itself in the Labor Day weekend, but is in keeping with the overarching perspective of Maynard's novel. To this end, Reitman probably could have been a bit more ruthless with his adaptation, but this would have undone the tone.

All in all, Labor Day is an entertaining and enjoyable drama with a romantic slant. Winslet and Brolin share an ever-changing chemistry as the characters warm to each other and their unfolding histories help keep it emotionally taut. It has the maturity and quality of Revolutionary Road with the human interest factor of a Nicholas Sparks adaptation - making it a pretty solid date movie.

The bottom line: Entertaining

7.00/10 ( 1 Vote )
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