Labor Day explores the formidable tug of past mistakes and the chasm of
echoing regrets. "This is a romantic drama that you have to piece together as
you watch. It's a movie in which you come to understand each character piece by
piece not scene by scene," explains Reitman. "This is strangely a movie that is
very much about first impressions and how deceiving they can be."
The story is told by Henry as an adult looking back at that pivotal summer of
1987. Thirteen-year-old Henry lives alone with his mother Adele. Adele, recluse,
shattered by events that led to her divorce, depends on Henry, not just for
basic errands but for companionship. Theirs is a halcyon of a small New England
town. Neighbors routinely stop by to say hello and typically walk right in
through an unlocked front door. Residents stroll along the main street and
converge in its mom and pop shops and cafes. But Adele cannot bring herself to
engage in this friendly bustle outside her front porch. She is not totally
disconnected from society - her friends and neighbors clearly care about her. It
is more that she is just outside of it, no longer an active participant.
"Adele is a single mother living with her young son and she lives a very
quiet life. She's slightly separate from society and you don't really know why.
She used to be a dancer, she used to be happily married to Henry's father,
Gerald...but there's something about this woman that you can't quite put your
finger on," says Winslet.
Because Adele relies so heavily on her son, Henry is forced to grow up much
quicker than his peers.
"He's stuck in between childhood and adulthood. He can't talk to his mom
about what he's going through because she's emotionally distressed and a
shut-in. With his dad, he feels like he's no longer a part of his life because
he has moved on so he has to take care of his mom and be the man of the house,"
explains Gattlin Griffith.
It doesn't help that her ex-husband Gerald (Clark Gregg) has so completely
reinvented his life. "Gerald is not that connected to his own son and doesn't
seem engaged with the boy's life. He has moved on and has this other family.
That's certainly something that we've seen a lot in life; people move on and
they don't necessarily take care of what is left behind. But then, as the story
unfolds, we see the man he once was and the connection that he and Adele once
shared, which led to Gerald's own heartbreak when he couldn't take the intensity
of their relationship anymore," says Clark Gregg.
As Adele's emotional state continues to deteriorate, Henry's responsibilities
as caretaker increase in direct proportion.
"Henry is very protective of his mother and he's always there watching out
for anything that could upset her, which doesn't take much," says Griffith.
With the new school year approaching, Henry persuades Adele to leave the
house and take him shopping since he's outgrown his clothes. Adele is hesitant
and filled with anxiety but she knows she has a responsibility to her son. What
neither can predict is that this seemingly routine trip will set forth a series
of unexpected and dangerous events that will forever alter the course of their
While shopping, Henry encounters Frank (Josh Brolin), a wounded man who asks
for help. Henry is naturally reluctant; there is something intimidating about
Frank, aside from the fact that he is a stranger. When Adele tries to politely
decline, it becomes clear that Frank won't take no for an answer. "Naturally
she's nervous and skeptical as to who this man is and what his motives are but
he definitely appears to need some kind of help," says Winslet.
"For whatever reason, she takes him home and I think it's only when she has
this stranger in the back of her car, sitting beside her son, that she actually
starts to think, 'Okay, what am I actually doing and what kind of danger could
we possibly be in?'" explains Winslet.
It is in fact this fortuitous meeting and decision that will alter the course of
all their lives.
"When we meet Adele, she is quiet, she has the shakes, her relationship with
her son is that he takes care of her and not vice-versa. We get the deep sense
that something is missing in her life but we don't know why. When she makes this
very implausible decision to comply with this frightening looking guy, we get
the sense that there is something in Adele, a history, a beauty, a kind of life
just waiting to emerge. Ulimately, we don't know if Frank has been imprisoned
justifiably - but he is definitely scary. When we first meet him through Henry,
he's got a limp, he's bleeding and sweating. He looks like he is running from
something. And it takes the entire movie for us to figure out if we should trust
him or not," Reitman explains.
Once they arrive at Adele's, Frank confesses that he is an escaped convict
and that he injured himself jumping out a window escaping prison. The gravity of
the situation stuns her ... as does the slow revelation that the criminal may not
be as horrible as she feared.
"Adele and Henry find themselves in a situation where they have this stranger
in their home. Then, this escaped convict starts to reveal his story, who he is,
why he's there and that he escaped from prison that morning and weirdly, rather
than the fear level increasing for them, it almost decreases as they realize
he's actually a decent man. He's a genuine person. Meeting and harboring Frank
also begins to reveal who she is really, what happened to her and ultimately
explains who she is," says Winslet.
Frank's past collides with the present when news of his escape blares across
the television screen, along with his mug shot. Frank reacts by tying up Adele
but like everything else about him, all is not what it seems. "With this guy,
you don't know from moment to moment if he's actually going to commit some
horrible crime while he's in the house with them or if he's the real thing..."
explains Josh Brolin.
There is something gentle and strong about Frank, lyrical and tough. He cooks
for his "prisoners" and carefully spoonfeeds chili to his bound captive Adele.
He prepares breakfast for Adele and Henry. He takes on chores to improve the
house. A bond grows between Adele and Frank and Frank and Henry. It becomes
clear that Frank is not leaving, nor do his "captives" desire that. Soon he is a
welcome part of the family.
"The fact that this guy, who is considered bad begins to have such a positive
impact on [Henry and Adele] is what I love about this story," Brolin says
"I think it really shocks her how moved she is to see the extent to which
Frank is able to have a really wonderful impact on her son's life and the way he
views and does things. Just to be in the space with a male figure in that way
for both of them is something very important and special and has been lacking in
both their lives. In a way, she and Frank are kindred spirits who have been
living in isolation, but due to very different circumstances. They are both
splintered souls and that commonality binds them together."
"Henry's not constantly having to look after his mother when Frank's around
and Frank's really teaching him how to be a kid and how it feels to have a
father around," says Griffith. "When Frank comes into the house, he just brings
it all back to life."
The simple act of making a homemade pie becomes the turning point in their
relationship. Frank slowly and carefully teaches both Adele and Henry the steps
taught to him by his grandmother and elevates baking to an art form. His
attention to detail, level of perfection and the loving way he coaches Adele is
a defining moment. There's something tender and sensual and palpable about the
way Frank is supporting and encouraging Adele. After the pie is assembled, Frank
pokes vent holes in the shape of an "A" affectionately after Adele.
"The pie becomes the catalyst and reveals who Frank really is," says Reitman.
How ever lovely the idea of this new family, the reality is that Frank is a
man on the run. Adele's recent emotional awakening complicates the situation;
usually so stoic and guarded, she is desperate not to lose Frank. The pair's
solution is both risky and extreme, laced with hope but ultimately doomed.
"I don't necessarily think their actions are sound but I think their heart's
in the right place. They want to start a new life without the weight of
consequence following them," notes Brolin.
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