Expectations are never good to bring with you into a movie theatre. They will sit on your lap, obscuring your views, souring the experience and, generally, being nothing but a nuisance. It is incredibly rare for a film to actually meet your expectations (usually because they’re a nuisance and will refuse to meet on amicable terms.)
When visiting this year’s GIFF I had two movies that I really wanted to see: Her – which I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to see – and Labor Day. Now, I usually aim to see foreign films that I know only have a slim chance in hell to actually get Swedish cinematic or even general distribution, but I had heard such amazing things about Her and read such amazing things about Labor Day that I needed to quench my curiosity. Was I as blown away by Labor Day as the reviewers whom I had stupidly read articles by beforehand? (I honestly try to stay away from reviews before actually seeing the movie, but sometimes…)
No, I was nowhere near blown away. And I gots myself to blame. But lets move onto the meat of the story.
The movie takes place during a handful of hot summer days when a prisoner on the run – Frank (Josh Brolin) – opts to claim the house of depressed single mother Adele (Kate Winslet) for a much needed hideout. The threat from this stranger’s presence is heightened by the fact that Adeles son Henry (Gattlin Griffiths) is also kept hostage, this even though the means feel slightly trite: throw a child into the mix and everything is heightened.
What follows consists of details pertaining to the plot and character traits of the film. Please, do stop reading if you haven’t seen it yet and wish to skip those pesky expectations and their lap-love.
The first problem I had with Labor Day was that I didn’t believe the threat Frank supposedly poses, and this was caused by the fact that I had read several reviews that quite airily, but without leaving much room for any head scratching, had described the relationship between the lead characters and how it progressed. In short: I knew that Frank would turn out to be way more than a standard jailbird.
My second problem, and this one was a much bigger problem for me as it turned me against the chosen portrayal of Frank as a character, was how writer-director Jason Reitman chose to show how Frank is a Good Man. Through the visuals chosen he becomes, to me, not his own character, but rather a hollow template for the All-American Dad.
The possible exception is that, when he’s done with fixing the engine on Adele’s car and all manner of Manly Chores around the house, he then proceeds to iron the wash and polish the floors – a Man who doesn’t balk at doing a Woman’s Chores, in other words.
However, a line is crossed when he, at the end of the day, picks up a baseball and a catcher’s mitt and goes out to toss a few with Henry – whom the audience is well aware to be starved for fatherly affection of this extremely American and (visually) extremely over-used kind. I don’t think the fact that Frank is a Misunderstood Man with More Good Sides Than Bad could have been made any clearer if Reitman had so chosen to write it out in neon spray paint all across the exterior of Adele’s suburban home. Give him a chance! He’s likable! He’s darling! He’s a fucking tooth paste commercial, apart from that one mistake he made years and years and years ago! Really, he is just a Nice Guy!
My third problem is that, even though Adele is a somewhat interesting character, with her trashed up insides and social fobia that makes it darn near impossible for her to even leave the house, there is this nagging feeling of her need for someone from the outside to break in and save her being so very convenient. She has no weapons to ward herself from the intrusion. This handsome, polite, and, as it turns out, good hearted stranger takes the liberty to hide from the police in her house – from the very first moment there is an inevitability to events that, I think, didn’t have to be there if the characters had just been changed ever so subtly.
What it all ends up being is a little too ”Of all the houses, in all the towns, in all the world, he walked into theirs”, excluding the fantastic setup already in motion long before Ingrid walks through Humphrey’s door in Casablanca.
All of these impressions aside I did feel a burst of satisfaction at the end of the movie and I am actually looking forward to watching Labor Day again, now that I know exactly what I am getting, rather than what I am expecting. I will get back to you with my second impression.
I give it Three Chaplin’s out of Five possible.