Of all the directors working today, especially the A-list guys, Jason Reitman is the one I’ve been on board with since day one. I love Wes Anderson, but discovered him with Rushmore on DVD. I’m a big fan of George Clooney as a director, but never bothered seeing Leatherheads or The Ides of March on the big screen, because they just didn’t seem important enough. But Jason Reitman, I’ve been in the theatre, opening week every time from Thank You for Smoking, all the way to Young Adult. But then came Labor Day, a Reitman movie, starring two big names in the leads, and I don’t know if it even got a theatrical release in Australia. So now I’ve seen it, on a small screen, and my Reitman cinema streak has been broken.
It’s Labor Day weekend 1987, the few days before school starts, and Henry (Gattlin Griffith) enters grade 7. Living with his agoraphobic and depressed mother Adele (Kate Winslet), they go into town for her monthly excursion as she stocks up on enough supplies for another month of hiding from the world. In the local supermarket, Frank (Josh Brolin) quickly and covertly takes Henry and Adele hostage, forcing them to take him to their home, where he can hide out and get ready to skip town after escaping from prison.
It’s petty obvious from the get go that Franks is a criminal with a heart of gold, a victim of circumstance, and just what Adele and Henry need to get out of their collective funk. All of that probably sounds pretty terrible to anyone reading this, and it is the worst part of Labor Day, but it’s not nearly as bad is it could have been.
The inevitable falling in love arc is cheap, rushed and way too convenient in every single way, but the performances and the cinematography more than make up for those shortcomings, making the rest of Labor Day extremely watchable.
The shame about missing this on the big screen is that it is, by far, Reitman’s most cinematic and visually impressive movie. There are a few moments when the wistful, slow motion shots of sun peaking through tree branches border on Terrance Mallick aping pretention, but it never quite crosses that line. All of Labor Day has a golden, summer look that evokes the sweltering heat these characters are living through, but also ads a slight fantastical feel that perfectly suits its told-in-flashback structure. As adult Henry remembers this massive event in his life, it only seems appropriate that it would have this unrealistic, perfect sheen.
I don’t think I’ve heard or read a single rave review for Labor Day I don’t think I’ve even heard or read a single OK one, and I don’t get it. Sure, the story is a little obvious now and again, and some of the character decisions seem totally unearned, but I still couldn’t help really, really liking it. Which means Reitman’s track record is still pristine as far as I’m concerned. The performances are all really strong, and at under two hours, it never outstayed its welcome. Even if you can’t get on board with the story, watch it with the sound down, listening to your favourite album. Because every single frame really does look amazing.