A film by Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Juno and Young Adult) based on Joyce Maynard‘s novel Labor Day (2009)
First, I’m not a film reviewer, I’ll leave that to the experts, or to my sister, whose passion for cinema is way beyond my thin knowledge of everything that has been going on in the motion picture world.
There are few films that have touched me deeply: Doctor Zhivago; 1965 epic drama–romance film directed by David Lean, starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, is one of them. I was 12 when my grandparents took me to the only cinema there was in town for my very first screening (well, in fact the first one was Snow White, but as a cartoon, it doesn’t count, does it?) The long epic romance-drama blew me away despite its length. Sadly, I regret most of the films have slipped my memory. Films have always served my entertainment purposes or were just a mere distraction in my daily grind.I had so much to do with 3 boys that I had more going on behind my scene, than to sit with my behind in front of hundreds of scenes from the 7th Art. Shame on me… Needless to say, I feel shy when I face all the savvy big headed blokes of 7th Artvenue. (but it’s never to late to catch up).
Why did I choose to speak about Labor Day? Is it because like Adele (Kate Winslet), I’m a single mum raising her 13-year old boy? That, like her I deserve some magical unexpected event to happen in my life? And logically said to myself: ”Oh.. I should see that film” – No, it was just a random choice.
The film is narrated by Adele’s son now a 30 year-old man. It’s a film about haunting memories, nostalgia, depression and a heartfelt mother-son relationship. It’s a film tricking you with the ultimate good-old-macho-man stereotype thrown away by Frank’s character (Josh Brolin) who casts a light on a whole new perspective of manhood that will set the tone of the film. This largely makes us forget about a somewhat awkward script.
OK, it’s romantic. OK, it’s a drama, but there’s more to it than romance. It’s deep and it conveys a sense of humanity, of faithfulness and sincerity that will make any hopeless situation back off. There’s more humanity in Labor Day than just plain romance. It’s a sociological drama about acceptance, stereotypes, respect, genders roles, nosey neighbours, teenagers and the life in the late 80’s.
Adele is a modern Madame Bovary, living a life of agony after she’s lost a still-born child, soon followed by her husband who ran away to settle with another woman for a passionless average life. Adele is an empty damaged woman, overwhelmed with fears and anxiety, scared of the outside world but paradoxically longing for a man’s touch. Only her son’s devotion (Gattlin Griffith is awesome as young Henry) is keeping her alive and makes up for her sad life. He almost babied her, pampered her and is trying his best to lift up her spirits. Still, he cannot be the missing husband she’s been dreaming of. Their relationship is very touching. Adele is fragile, yet, she stands so strong in her femininity and sensuality that she does not need any artificial atour nor the Hollywood brushy-brush embellishment. Her ex-husband, when speaking to his son said of her: ”Your mother needed passion. Oh God, yes..she was passionate. She was in love with love…”Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin exude a palpable tension that unravels out into an array of emotions. Our senses are tickled when the characters bask in an unspoken genuine sensuality. Their moves, the look upon their faces translate their feelings with an unparalleled elegance in a heavilycharged atmosphere.
The film seems to unfold into a slow motion of sweet languor whereas on the other hand, the feelings of the characters seems to develop at a faster pace in another dimension.
Frank (Josh Brolin) has the badass masculine look to him, but quickly he will appear not to be the guy he seemed to be. A good kick in the butt to the stereotypes is always nice, isn’t it? His whole manliness wipes away all the clichés of the tall dark handsome but useless guy. Much to our surprise, he satisfied Adele’s needs – and when I say needs I mean EVERY needs – in her life without her asking. He cooks, he bakes, he is the husband, the father, the good man, the house cleaner (he irons, does the laundry), he repairs Adele’s car, he mopped the floor, is great at DIY, he is a cracker with Adele’s son but also with her neighbour’s disable son, Jack. Frank is THE man. Handy as handy a man can be with an immense generosity of spirit. Strong as he is, he appears to be a deeply hurt and sensitive man who doesn’t whine, whose pain threshold is as high as the highest building in Dubai. Clearly, this man won’t let you down because of man flu! So, there he is. A male figure, most women would dream of. A bombshell thrown at role genders where a man is still a man even when she teaches him how to dance salsa under the eyes of her not really amused and bewildered son. Frank is Adele’s salvation, he is God sent …from prison to hospital – to Adele’s – and then back to square 1…
Their first close scene appears when he ties her up and feeds her (no SM ropes and chains here…) after he cooked a gorgeous chili into which he had poured some coffee (I need to get to know why!). Then there’s the pie. American Pie 1, 2, 3… back off! This peach pie is a key in the film. Whilst Adele’s, Frank’s and Henry’s fingers are intertwining in the bowl, their hand getting wet and sticky over the diced peaches, we have here a revisited version of Ghost ‘s pottery scene, this time in a scene with a countryside fresh and simple feel to it. This very pie will trigger an unexpected and meaningful outcome for Henry’s and her mum’s future.
There’s no nudity, no sexual scenes, no extra make up or scenes where the fairies turn up to brush off the pangs of a cruel reality. The film is not about the dialogues or the plot itself. It’s about a profound connection in between people’s souls, a ‘labour in process’ that will give birth to something that everybody (or almost) on this planet is looking for: a beautiful soulful relationship.
The shades and photo-like cinematography aesthetic rendered by the lens flare is in almost every scene. Throughout the film, you can feel the intensity of their feelings as for example when the camera is focussing on Frank’s hand grabbing gently Adele’s waist whilst they are sitting on the stairs and she almost surrender to him, or with the well-chosen close-up that draw our attention to details (a leg, a knee, a look, her mouth, his deep look).
The five-day love affair ends up on Labor Day, before Frank, Adele and Henry may even have the chance to flee to Canada to start a new chapter together. A goodbye note left by Henry to his dad; Henry confiding with his new manipulative friend about the secret plan and eventually the neighbour turning up unexpectedly on that morning will sabotage the whole plan.
Adele will be left once again in a stark isolation, more depressed than ever as her life without Franck consumes her. Labor Day could also be a metaphore for when she went into labour years back and lost her little girl, and was left with nothing but emptiness.
As for me. I haven’t been left empty. What I’ve been left with from this (supposedly) aborted passion is the hope for love in the most incongruous situations coming across our path. Remember, The Bridges of Madison County with Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, was another powerful four-day love affair that didn’t let time cast its shadows of habits upon a man and a woman in love. Four days for them, five days for Adele and Frank will always make it live more intensely because the love was short-lived and remained unspoiled. Nonetheless, the heartache is always in sight as it was in Titanic too.
Now, should I stand as the whole-rosy-rose glasses-gal and tell you the male characteristics depicted through the story would pleasantly be my Graal? (nicer than a cup of tea).
Dream on girl… but wait, isn’t it soon Labor Day? (Or rather, May Day its counterpart in the UK?)
May Day May Day May Day May Day May Day....