A steamy take on Stockholm syndrome.
Single? Lonely? Starved for human touch? Why not get abducted by an escaped convict? Guaranteed relationship starter! That's basically what Labor Day tells its audience, without a whiff of irony. Writer-director Jason Reitman seems completely unaware this message might be a problem.
It's Labor Day weekend in 1987, and a single mom named Adele (Kate Winslet) is shopping with her teenage son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith). Soon Frank (Josh Brolin), a large and shifty man who is bleeding from a stomach wound, kidnaps them in the middle of a store. He forces them to take him to their home. "I fell out a window," he informs them to explain the bleeding. He proceeds to tie them up, as you apparently do when you're an escaped convict in need of a hiding place. Later he makes breakfast, does some handyman jobs around the house and basically parodies the role of husband. Later still, after some untying, Adele starts gazing at Frank in besotted ways and calling her son "Hank," as Frank has been doing.
Reitman expects viewers to find the plot terribly romantic, perhaps because he adapted the film from a Joyce Maynard novel. Though he's better known for snarky fare like Young Adult and Thank You for Smoking, I'm pretty sure he's being sincere. We are treated to a voiceover narration by adult Henry (Tobey Maguire), who slathers the details of the kidnapping in gooey nostalgia for the moment his mother fell in love with their captor.
Setting the kidnapping on a sweltering Labor Day weekend is supposed to make the story sexy and relatable. 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 pie for them all to enjoy.
I'll accept, for a moment, that Stockholm syndrome could be construed as romantic, but the Mom-baseball-pie combo is downright absurd.
Of course Winslet and Brolin are amazing. They can't help it. That makes Labor Day even more horrifyingly wrongheaded. It's not a piece of cheesy sensationalism; it's elegant awards bait that earned Winslet a Golden Globe nomination. All of this is fine if you want to make falling for a violent kidnapper look appealing, but what if that idea gives you the creeps?