It’s the end of summer in New England, and the heat hasn’t broken yet. This might account for the fever-dream mood of Labor Day, a new film with an implausible premise but a passionate commitment to its anxious, sidelined characters.
Adapted by director Jason Reitman from a novel by Joyce Maynard, this story has a hook that sounds like it came from an old film noir. Divorced and depressed Adele (Kate Winslet) is out for a rare shopping trip with her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith), who’s about to begin seventh grade. They are accosted by an injured man, Frank (Josh Brolin), who vaguely threatens them if they don’t shelter him until nightfall.
He’s an escaped prisoner. While recovering from an appendectomy, he jumped out of a hospital window and hobbled his way into the path of Adele and Henry. Now he has to heal up, and the single nightfall turns into a few days in a row in Adele’s dowdy house.
It probably won’t surprise you that Frank might fulfill a need in these two lonely people. So instead of trying to surprise you, Labor Day does nicely by creating a sweltering setting for a group of frail people and creating little moments of emotion from the situation.