“Labor Day” has a simple premise: an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) forces his way into the home of a depressed single mother (Kate Winslet). But instead of fear, she soon finds love.
And yet the ‘80s-set drama still has a horror movie quality about it, in more ways than one. As it is intended, danger is always lurking for the budding couple. Law enforcement could arrive at any time to haul him back to prison, and the film’s score does its best to make that tension palpable.
Beyond all that, however, the movie often comes across like the origin story of a serial killer, not unlike A&E’s “Psycho” prequel, “Bates Motel.” See, there’s a third protagonist (relative newcomer Gattlin Griffith) playing Winslet’s teenage son, and that’s where things start to get weird.
Aside from being forced to wear comically-undersized cutoff shorts every day because finances are tight, Henry is there every step of the way as his mother, Adele, falls for the on-the-lam Frank (Brolin).
He’s there when they meet, he’s there when they wistfully plan to run away together, and he’s an equal – if unsettling – presence during the now-legendary pie-baking sequence.
Though Griffith shows a surprising amount of depth as the introverted Henry, nothing could stop the role (voiced as an adult by Tobey Maguire) from dipping into Norman Bates territory.
Even in Frank’s absence, Henry’s views on love have been turned upside down by his codependent relationship with his mother, to the one point where he experiences a romantic dream about a classmate that plays more like a horrifying “Vertigo”-esque hallucination.
“Labor Day” was meant to relaunch Winslet on the silver screen after a few years flying under the radar, but more likely, it’ll be remembered as her “Country Strong.”
For those who don’t recall the 2010 country music drama, what was originally believed to put star Gwyneth Paltrow on the map for a Best Actress Oscar ended up a critical and financial bust.
Eyebrows were first raised when the “Labor Day” was quietly moved from a prime award season release to a debut at the end of January, when the season is already in full swing.
That’s all well and good, because the film isn’t likely to win many awards. But it would be wrong to be too hard on Winslet, or Brolin, for that matter, as both somehow manage to do respectable work despite the material they’ve been given.
The bottom line: you’ll be entertained and likely a little amused, but high drama this is not. Rated PG-13, in theaters now.