“Labor Day,” adapted by director Jason Reitman from author Joyce Maynard’s romance novel, is a sighing melodrama. Set in 1987 the squeaky clean goodness of its hero and heroine play like a dime store novel.
Kate Winslet, as Adele, Gattlin Griffith, as Adele’s son Henry, and Josh Brolin, as escaped convict Frank, comprise the film’s central trio. Adele and her 13-year-old son Henry are a model of single mother-son acceptance, though each longs for a strong man in their lives. Cue Frank, a stud housing a sensitive soul. He shows up on their doorstep, begging for shelter.
According to Frank’s flashbacks, he is 20 years into an unjust 25-year prison term when he escapes from the hospital located in Adele’s fictitious hometown of Holton Mills, N.H. Adele warns Frank that, in this busybody community, everyone’s business is everybody’s concern. To prove her point, over the five days Frank spends with Adele and Henry, uninvited neighbors repeatedly arrive unannounced. Initially care is taken to hide Frank’s presence, but, as love and trust develop between the three, they increasingly forget to lock — or sometimes even to close — the front door.
The film attempts to make up for a lack of clever banter by focusing on cooking and eating in a manner that skirts food pornography. Somewhere along the way Frank learned the secrets of preparing homemade chili and peach pie, along with gently tying up a woman (so she can’t be accused of willingly harboring a fugitive), only to spoon feed her his delectable creations, as if it both acts were more foreplay than kidnapping.
Adele, whose heart is as receptive as a Jayne Seymour “Open Hearts” jewelry commercial, caresses Frank with her eyes and body language that conveys more than any omitted lovemaking scene could. Implications of longing, and yes, sighs, are tightly woven into every scene.
Even young Henry, on the cusp of adolescence, gets with the program when he meets transplanted townie Eleanor (Brighid Fleming). After sizing one another up, Eleanor gamely bestows a first kiss upon the lad’s lips.
Through a host of contrived twists the film manages to become a tragedy with a happy ending. Nicely paced and well acted by Winslet and Brolin, who imbue their characters with what’s missing from the printed page, the film holds our attention despite telegraphing most of the action and cooking up a batch of mediocre philosophical cotton candy.