Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
"Labor Day" a new retro-set melodrama directed by Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) could be plucked right out of a Lifetime network movie.
Kate Winslet is Adele, a traumatized single mom caring for her spunky and compassionate 13 year old son Henry, played by Gattlin Griffith. One day while Adele and Henry are grocery shopping they have a fateful run-in with desperate prison escapee, Frank embodied by the rugged Josh Brolin. Frank is bleeding and forceful and Adele is shaky, sweaty and worried, giving lots of panicked looks. Frank won't take no for answer and Adele agrees to give Frank both a ride and access to their house, (and all without a weapon) even though this makes little real-life sense.
There is some entertaining and well done tension between Frank and Adele. Are they prisoners? Is Frank a dangerous man?
There is some mystery and nervousness here.
But soon it becomes apparent that Frank is a sensitive and caring man with little rage or poison in him. Frank does household chores, he maintains the gutters, takes an interest in Henry and is a very sensual baker. In one semi-poetic scene, (which will remind some of the film Ghost, albeit not as corny) Frank mixes fresh peaches with syrup and unleashes dashes of angelic sugar to blend within a caramel toned pie.
There is also a deft shot of Adele and Frank reflected on the screen of Henry's handheld computer game. Such scenes illustrate a visceral time as the action is set in the 1980s when E.T. and Donkey Kong ruled childhood imaginations.
As we might guess, under some Spielberg-speckled stars, Adele and Henry begin to bend and sway under a new half-bliss of domesticity.
Yet given this development, why the ruse of Adele's being bound by rope with her hands taped behind her back? Not to mention the predictable feeding of the captive? Is it so odd that Adele would have a boyfriend stay over at some point?
Winslet and Brolin are solid and convincing in their roles. It is the plot that runs out of room, seeming constricted and all too flat. Brolin is the Wanted Man, Public Enemy #1 it would seem and a good two thirds of the action is spent watching the police and wondering if the large but sweet faced Frank is going to get caught or become a solid family man, not to mention an attentive father.
Such plots have been rendered many times before from Clint Eastwood's "A Perfect World" to countless "bad guy with a heart" TV movies.
By the time the third unwelcome knock on the screen door comes, with Brolin stifling Winslet behind the door, it all appears a matter of course and all surprise evaporates. Of course the townspeople whisper and of course there is a troublesome very unsympathetic neighbor, Evelyn (Brooke Smith) who horribly slaps a teen in a wheelchair (Micah Fowler) for not being able to control his alert in seeing Frank on TV. I doubt this would have happened in reality and especially not without criticism.
Frank, for one, would not have stood for it.
Everything gets all sewed up sentimentally with bittersweet ginger as an aged Frank writes a "Dear Henry" letter and the young son evolves into Tobey Maguire with peach pies in a nationally famous oven.
The actors all do well and good (Kate Winslet in particular) but in such a hum-drum rectangular plot, the players feel as if they are their own narrative prisoners.
With all the sirens, officers and suspicious glances, including a limp natural father (Clark Gregg) there is little to drive us forward.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org