Compelling performances by Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin as a pair of lost souls who come together in unlikely circumstances are not enough to sustain Labor Day (Cert 12A), Juno director Jason Reitman’s over-reverential adaptation of the novel by Joyce Maynard.
In a rural New Hampshire town Winslet is a divorcee who has never recovered from childbirth tragedy and lives as a virtual reclusive with her 13-year-old son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) who does his best to be the man of his house.
On a rare shopping trip, Henry and his mother are accosted by an injured man in a baseball cap who is both intimidating and in need of help,
He convinces them to take him into their home where he is revealed to be Frank Chambers, an escaped convict.
The air of dread that for a while hangs over the claustrophobic set-up dissolves as handsome Frank proves the perfect man about the house. He cooks, he cleans, he mends the car, he teaches Henry some baseball moves and knows how to treat the handicapped kid who drops by. But is he too good to be true?
The film is only partly a thriller and partly a doomed romance. It’s also a coming-of-age story of Henry confronting all the pangs of adolescence.
But his childhood recollections, erotic imaginings and voiceover observations - along with the flashback to Frank’s crime (which Adele and Henry seem oddly incurious about) - merely serve to diffuse any sense of drama.
As an old-style melodrama it has its moments especially the scene where Frank teaches them how to bake a peach pie involving much kneeding of dough and pressing of flesh with breathy eroticism reminiscent of the pottery class in Ghost.
Whether you can suppress a sense of mirth at this point will probably determine how much you will appreciate Labor Day.