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Film Review: Labor Day

"Love, loss and second chances collide in the new romance thriller, Labor Day"

 Labor Day is a low-key love story meshed with an unusual coming-of-age story which makes for quite the  tearjerker.The cynical movie-goer will describe this film as a highly unlikely high-concept romance. The movie is an  adaptation of Joyce Maynard's 2009 novel and is directed by Jason Reitman (Juno).

While director Jason Reitman  doesn't completely pull it off, there is an earnest quality that draws you in -- and that has much to do with the performers.Kate Winslet plays a single mother damaged by life, who has become a frumpy recluse in a small New Hampshire town, while her 13-year-old son Henry has been forced to shoulder the "man of the house" duties. A back-to-school shopping trip leads to a situation that changes everything forever.

Actor Josh Brolin stars as  Frank, an escaped convict who considers them a ticket to his freedom. He'll hide out in their home until he can make a clean break. Only he cooks and starts doing chores, and somehow, he no longer appears menacing. Sure, he's in prison for murder, but this mysterious man has a backstory that peaks your sympathy.

Adele has a sad backstory too. At first, everyone mopes around, and the movie moves languidly -- almost a cliche, as in a Southern gothic scorcher where the heat is a metaphor for all the sexual tension. Over the course of this sweltering Labor Day weekend in 1987, somehow Frank, Adele and Henry mesh into a family unit.

The tension builds when well-meaning and clueless outsiders come a-knockin'. Plans are put into motion, but it's pie-in-the-sky. And pie is another big metaphor, as Frank teaches the Wheelers how to make a Food Network-worthy peach pie from scratch.

While not thoroughly convincing as a dowdy stay at home mom, Kate Winslet exudes sadness and yearning in such a way, you want her to be magically transformed by love.

Josh Brolin is believable as a manly man whose life went off the rails another lifetime ago, and with his kindness towards a disabled boy and his tender fatherly concern about Henry, you are led to believe he's a good guy trapped by circumstances. Hey, he fixes cars.

The film's real find here is young Gattlin Griffith, conveying his vulnerable pubescent boy feelings on his sleeve but also being a dutiful son, hoping for his mom to be happy and all of them having a shot at a better life.

Tom Lipinski is memorable as the young Frank in flashback, having a remarkable resemblance to Brolin. Tobey Maguire plays the older Henry, and narrates the film in his measured cadence.

For fans of the book, the film is a faithful adaptation, with a few ambiguities. (And the book includes that scrumptious-looking peach pie recipe). The performers are so sincere that they sell this ultimate chick-flick fantasy. You might think it's all a manipulative love story guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings, but darn it, the material sucks you in. Get out the tissues.

The film is beautifully shot, evoking the summers past etched in your memories. It also has an ending that you want to root for in movies, tying things up in much neater fashion than you predicted.

You must get past the concept of a good convict,in order, for you to swallow this story also the film's somber tone makes it hard to warm up to until at least midway. Acting legend James Vander Beek is wasted in what amounts to a cameo as a police officer.
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