If you’re a fan of Nicholas Sparks novels and movies, you’ll be all over Labor Day like crust on pie. Pie so gorgeous and mouthwatering you’ll forget it was made by a random prison escapee for you and your impressionable son while being held hostage in your own home.
Who’s in it? Kate Winslet (Adele), Josh Brolin (Frank), Gattlin Griffith (Henry), Clark Gregg (Gerald), Tobey Maguire (Older Henry)
What’s it about? It’s 1987, and Adele and her 13-year-old son Henry live a quiet and isolated existence as a result of Adele’s crippling agoraphobia and depression — the same years-long depression that motivated her ex-husband Gerald to run off with his secretary and start a new family. When Adele and Henry venture into town on their monthly supply run, they’re confronted by an escaped convict who convinces them to let him hide out at their house for a few hours.
Within ten minutes, you’re either on board with Labor Day’s set up, or you’re just not going to be able to get past it. I fell into the latter camp.
We’re introduced to Adele and Henry by way of a brief montage that shows the young teenager delivering a steaming mug of coffee to his mom first thing in the morning; then literally helping her shift gears as they prepare for their rare errand run; getting cash at the local bank branch, where Adele apparently hasn’t shown her face in years; and then escorting her around a Walmart-like store in order to buy him much-needed pants. Summary: Adele is emotionally fragile, but Henry loves her very much and has been acting like the man of the house for quite some time.
The second Henry dares to go a few aisles away from his mom, however, he runs into the gruff and shifty Frank, who’s bleeding through his shirt. Frank walks Henry over to Adele and — in a vaguely threatening way — suggests that they leave the store and take him where he needs to go. Once with the mother and son in their car, Frank states that he wants to go to their house.
I was already having issues with Labor Day by this early point, and I think it’s because I just couldn’t connect with Adele and the decisions she made. I’m not sure if it’s because we now hear about violence so often in the news that my first thought was, “Um, hellooooo, he clearly doesn’t even have a weapon! Why isn’t she kicking him, grabbing Henry, running like hell and screaming her head off?” I mean, she barely resisted! I get that she’s depressed, but I DON’T get how that has anything to do with the fact that she was like a wet noodle around this stranger from the get-go — especially when her son’s safety was at stake.
But it gets worse! Frank cops to being an escaped convict (in prison for murder, no less), but insists that he won’t hurt them and just needs to lie low for a few hours. Those few hours turn into an overnight stay, which turns into a long, sweaty Labor Day weekend. But hey, if a dangerous stranger does all of those annoying around-the-house chores you’ve been putting off, can whip together a mean chili (don’t even get me started on this man’s pie-making skillz) AND looks pretty good in a tight t-shirt, you’d probably want to keep him around, too. RIGHT?
As the weekend plays out, we see flashbacks for both Frank and Adele that are supposed to make us sympathetic toward their plights and show us how they’re kind of perfect for each other, I guess. But all those scenes did was horrify me. These were dark, dark flashbacks, let me just put it that way.
It was around this point that I started wondering if I’d missed something and had perhaps forgotten that Labor Day was based on a sappy Nicholas Sparks book. But no, the film was adapted from a critically applauded Joyce Maynard novel. On top of that, it was written and directed by Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air), whose films I usually connect to quite deeply on an emotional level. Then there’s the Winslet Factor. This movie SHOULD have worked! But this is one of those times where what may have made sense or been believable on the page does not translate at all onto the big screen. There was not one second where I felt what Adele was doing was right, even after I knew her painful backstory. Winslet, Brolin and Griffiths were perfectly fine in their roles, but that wasn’t enough to outweigh the plot contrivances.
I’d love to hear from anyone who read the novel. Is this adaptation what you expected, or did it leave a lot to be desired in comparison to the book?