Labor Day review: Stockholm-syndrome romance

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Labor Day red light Kate Winslet Josh Brolin

A gooey nostalgic look back at that time a young boy’s mom fell in love with their kidnapper, presented under a sexy sweltering summer haze.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Reitman, Brolin, and Winslet

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Ladies! Single? Lonely? Starved for human touch? Why not get yourself kidnapped and held hostage by an escaped convict? Guaranteed relationship starter!

I kinda couldn’t believe this is where Labor Day goes. I’m kinda dumbfounded it does so without the teensiest sense of irony or even a hint of awareness that this could be problematic. Stockholm syndrome as actually, genuinely, for-reals romantic? Are they kidding us?

They are not kidding us.

I… I can’t even.

It’s Labor Day weekend in 1987, and single mom — and very likely clinically depressed woman — Adele (Kate Winslet: Movie 43, Contagion) is shopping with her young teen son Henry (Gattlin Griffith: Green Lantern, Blood Done Sign My Name) when they are approached by Frank (Josh Brolin: Gangster Squad, Men in Black III). From the middle of a busy store, this large, shifty man, suspiciously bleeding from a wound in the gut, kidnaps Adele and Henry and forces them to take him to their home. “I fell out a window,” he informs them, to explain the bleeding, which is completely plausible and also covers the kidnapping, I guess. He proceeds to tie them up, as you do when you’re an escaped convict who needs a place to hide out. Later, Frank makes breakfast, does some handyman jobs around the house, and generally engages in enacting a parody of husbandness. Later still, after some untying, Adele starts gazing at Frank in horrifyingly besotted ways, and — as desperately suggestible as she is — begins to call her son “Hank,” as Frank has been doing.

I must stress once again that writer and director Jason Reitman, adapting a novel by Joyce Maynard, sincerely expects that we will find this all terribly romantic. In case there be any doubt that Reitman is being straight with us — because he is generally better known for snark such as Young Adult and Thank You for Smoking, and some sort of contempt for the regressive attitudes on display here is desperately needed — we are treated to a voiceover narration by adult Henry today (Tobey Maguire: The Great Gatsby, The Details), who relates these events for us while slathering them all in a gooey nostalgia for that time when he and his mom got kidnapped by an escaped convict and his mother fell in love with the guy.

I’m so not kidding.

Why is it Labor Day? In order to throw a sexy sweltering haze over everything, of course. Oh my goodness, it’s so hot in here with the kidnapping and the tying up and everything! But it’s not just sexy for Adele, it’s all-American for Henry, too. Everybody wins when you get taken hostage! What boy wouldn’t want to spend the last weekend of summer playing baseball in the yard with a menacing father figure? (This actually happens.) For Christ’s sake, there’s even a fresh-baked peach pie for them all to enjoy. Reitman’s not willing to go as far as apple pie, so we know what he considers too ridiculous to go there, and what he doesn’t consider too ridiculous to go there.

To reiterate, in case it’s unclear: Stockholm syndrome as romantic? Totally fine. Mom, baseball, and apple pie? Don’t be absurd.

Of course Winslet and Brolin are amazing: it’s kinda who they are. But that only makes Labor Day even more horrifyingly wrongheaded. This isn’t cheesy sensationalistic crap we’re dealing with here. It’s elegant awards bait: Winslet was nominated for a Golden Globe, for the love of human bondage. Which is totally fine if you want to make falling in love with your violent kidnapper look gorgeous and appealing.

viewed during the 57th BFI London Film Festival

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Mon, Jan 27, 2014 9:47pm

“Well, Speed was a success, so what’s a more extreme situation we can use to forge a relationship? I know, he’s a con on the run and has to kidnap her! And she’s got an adorable kid!”

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Mon, Jan 27, 2014 10:32pm

Yeah, but Keanu wasn’t the terrorist there.

Sat, Feb 01, 2014 2:32am

I loved it!

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Charlie
Sat, Feb 01, 2014 9:25am

What did you love about it?

Mon, Feb 03, 2014 11:00pm

Golly, I could barely sit through the trailers, they were so embarrassing.