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Despite two amazing actors, Labor Day fails with a twisted love story




Ladies: Single? Lonely? Starved for human touch? Why not get yourself kidnapped and held hostage by an escaped convict? Guaranteed relationship starter!

I kinda couldn't believe this is where Labor Day goes. I'm kinda dumbfounded it does so without the teensiest sense of irony, or even a hint of awareness that this could be problematic. Stockholm syndrome as actually, genuinely, for-reals romantic? Are they kidding us?

They are not kidding us. I ... I can't even.

It's Labor Day weekend in 1987. Single mom, and very likely clinically depressed woman, Adele (Kate Winslet), is shopping with her young teen son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) when they are approached by Frank (Josh Brolin). From the middle of a busy store, this large, shifty man, suspiciously bleeding from a wound in the gut, kidnaps Adele and Henry and forces them to take him to their home.

"I fell out a window," he informs them to explain the bleeding, which is completely plausible and also covers the kidnapping, I guess. He proceeds to tie them up. Later, Frank makes breakfast, does some handyman jobs around the house, and generally engages in enacting a parody of husbandness. Later still, after some untying, Adele starts gazing at Frank in horrifyingly besotted ways, and, as desperately suggestible as she is, begins to call her son "Hank," as Frank's been doing.

I must stress once again that writer and director Jason Reitman, adapting a novel by Joyce Maynard, sincerely expects that we will find this all terribly romantic. In case there be any doubt that Reitman is being straight with us — because he is generally better known for snark such as Young Adult and Thank You for Smoking, and some sort of contempt for the regressive attitudes on display here is desperately needed — we are treated to a voiceover narration by adult Henry today (Tobey Maguire), who relates these events while slathering them all in a gooey nostalgia for that time when he and his mom got kidnapped by an escaped convict and his mother fell in love.

I'm so not kidding.

Why is it Labor Day? In order to throw a sexy sweltering haze over everything, of course. Oh my goodness, it's so hot in here with the kidnapping and the tying up and everything!

But it's not just sexy for Adele, it's all-American for Henry, too. Everybody wins when you get taken hostage! What boy wouldn't want to spend the last weekend of summer playing baseball in the yard with a menacing father figure? (This actually happens.) For Christ's sake, there's even a fresh-baked peach pie for them all to enjoy. Reitman's not willing to go as far as apple pie, so we know what he considers too ridiculous to go there, and what he doesn't consider too ridiculous to go there.

To reiterate, in case it's unclear: Stockholm syndrome as romantic? Totally fine. Mom, baseball and apple pie? Don't be absurd.

Of course Winslet and Brolin are amazing; it's kinda who they are. But that only makes Labor Day even more horrifyingly wrongheaded. This isn't cheesy, sensationalistic crap we're dealing with here. It's elegant awards bait: Winslet was nominated for a Golden Globe, for the love of human bondage.

Which is totally fine if you want to make falling in love with your violent kidnapper look gorgeous and appealing.

Related Film

Labor Day

Official Site:

Director: Jason Reitman

Writer: Jason Reitman

Cast: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tom Lipinski, Clark Gregg, Alexie Gilmore, Lucas Hedges, Brighid Fleming, James Van Der Beek and Maika Monroe

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