Director Jason Reitman leaves comedy and ventures into psychological thriller territory with Labor Day. He is helped quite a bit by Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin who give performances filled with fearful tension and sensual attraction.
Tie Me Up
PG-13 for thematic material, brief violence and sexuality
In an age before cell phones or internet, Henry (an intense Gattlin Griffith), a young teenager, lives with his reclusive mother Adele (Winslet). In one of their rare trips into the town center for some shopping, they are subtly kidnapped by an escaped prisoner, Frank (Brolin), who hurries them out of the store without drawing attention.
He makes them drive home where he plans to rest and heal from an abdomen wound. He negotiates — if that word can be used between captor and hostage — that he will stay in the house until midnight when he will try to catch a passing train. He’ll have to tie them up for appearances’ sake but he harbors no ill intent toward them.
After tying them up, he cooks a meal of prison chili, complete with a dash of coffee for flavor. He feeds it to the tied-up Adele in a creepy scene made more so by ideas of sensuality, fear, and control.
So far so good, but that’s just the setup. Frank’s escape is all over the news and police are out looking for him. He’ll never reach the train tracks, so he renegotiates a longer stay. He “pays” for the inconvenience the next morning by cooking breakfast (homemade biscuits), fixing the car, doing things around the house that require “a man’s touch.”
In spite of some mysterious flashbacks that suggest a history of violence and victimhood, It becomes obvious — sometimes too obvious — that Frank is a good husband and father surrogate for Adele and Henry. Labor Day shows that functioning families can built from mismatched spare parts.
The film’s centerpiece is a pie-making scene that reminded me of the pottery scene in Ghost. It’s very sensual, with a strong and confident Brolin guiding Winslet’s timid hands through the fruit. He doesn’t measure anything; “it’s all about instinct,” he says; it’s all in the feel. Maybe the scene is too much fruit, not enough spice. But Labor Day excels in the nervous tension that comes from the two characters, each afraid of the other, each trusting the other with their life.
To use an obvious metaphor, Labor Day is like a big slab of pie a la mode: it’s satisfying, filling, and delicious in your mouth, but you may wish afterwards that you’d had something more nourishing.