Director Jason Reitman furnishes an unusual romantic pairing in Labor Day. A departure from his prior films like Juno, Labor Day is the story of two strangers falling in love over a long Labor Day weekend in 1987. Driven by stars Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet, we get a fantastical romance between an escaped prisoner and a lonely mother. This is a pure genre exercise meant as catnip towards its intended target demographic, 30-something women looking for a little fantasy in their romantic films.
Based off a novel by Joyce Maynard, the concept behind Labor Day is fairly simple. A prisoner escapes from the local hospital in a sleepy New Hampshire town. Frank (Josh Brolin) is the stuff of pure romantic fantasy, a convicted murderer that fills every desperate need of Adele (Kate Winslet) and her son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith). Adele is a broken woman after her divorce from Henry’s father, having become a recluse and virtual shut-in after he ran off with his secretary. Henry feels disconnected from his father, having lost his only male role model as the boy makes the transition into adulthood.
Frank persuades the family to take him in for a few hours and quickly inures himself to the household as a manhunt develops across the town. Recovering from his wounds, Frank is nothing but a perfect gentleman. The handsome man enables Adele to break out of her shell and becomes a father figure to young Henry.
Labor Day does not take things slowly; the inevitable romance between Frank and Adele develops quickly. It does like to gloss over much of the discussion that brings the pair together, as the story is loosely told from Henry’s perspective. An adult Henry (Tobey Maguire) narrates, filling in some of the holes. Frank’s history prior to meeting the family is told in a series of baffling flashbacks that only make sense once you reach the final act.
A movie like Labor Day is intended as a guilty pleasure. The fantasy of the situation, a lonely woman falling in love with an escaped prisoner, is the stuff of pulpy romance novels. In that regard, it works quite well. The rugged prisoner has movie star looks, is an excellent cook, and has a gentle demeanor with children. Winslet’s character is surprisingly under-written as the frazzled single mother. Josh Brolin and Gattlin Griffith turn in choice performances. Griffith’s turn as a boy on the verge of adolescence is loaded with realism, the emotional linchpin of the film.
Labor Day remains firmly stuck in the romance genre, but it is highly competent genre entertainment sure to please its intended audience.
Paramount delivers Labor Day on Blu-ray in a beautiful 1080p presentation. The pristine video comes courtesy of cinematographer Eric Steelberg’s exquisite use of the RED Epic camera. A rich color palette, perfect contrast, neutral flesh-tones- Labor Day has them all in immaculate glory. The razor-sharp picture quality has been rendered to perfection by a top-notch AVC video encode, averaging a strong 32.83 Mbps for the main feature on a BD-50.
Unlike many films in this genre, the video has not been filtered by digital noise reduction. The level of high-frequency detail present in close-ups is excellent, revealing a touch of aging in Labor Day’s stars.
Contrary to its digital pedigree, Labor Day has one of the most polished presentations I’ve seen on Blu-ray. Aside from the loss of grain, one would be hard-pressed to distinguish its romantic flourishes from a beautifully shot 35mm film. This is a real stunner that should provide demo material amenable to wives and significant others.
Rolfe Kent’s score sounds fine spread out over an adequate 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The surround channels are largely used to immerse the listener with delicate instrumental touches. A couple of moments provide the subwoofer with an added jolt of energy somewhat atypical for this type of film. If one is to lodge a complaint, the wide dynamic range of the mix leads to soft dialogue in a couple of scenes. It appears to be a conscious decision by director Jason Reitman, as Henry attempts to overhear the whispered exchanges in bed between Frank and Adele. Labor Day’s mix is mostly used to create a romantic mood for Frank and Adele.
Paramount has provided a number of subtitles and dubs for Labor Day. The following subtitles display in a white font, completely inside the 2.35:1 framing at all times: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The dubs include: 5.1 French Dolby Digital, 5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital, 5.1 Portuguese Dolby Digital, and a track for English Descriptive Audio.
Fans get a nice assortment of special features for a film that didn’t light up the box office. First pressings include a glossy slipcover replicating the cover photo. Some copies will include a $10 code redeemable at 1-800-Flowers.com that expires 5/27/2014. The combo pack includes a DVD of the main feature. Paramount has provided both UltraViolet and iTunes digital copies of the movie.
Note: Target has an exclusive edition for Labor Day that includes a couple of brief featurettes.
Audio Commentary by Director Jason Reitman, Director of Photography Eric Steelberg, and Assistant Director Jason Blumenfeld – I found this commentary on the dull side, as Reitman and associates go over various behind-the-scenes material. There are some pauses between scenes and the energy is on the sleepy side.
End of Summer: Making Labor Day (29:06 in HD) – A complete look at the film from behind the scenes, featuring interviews by most of the cast and principal crew. Original author Joyce Maynard even makes an appearance. Nothing in here is groundbreaking but it is competently executed for its breezy documentary and press kit focus.
Deleted Scenes (10:36 in HD) – These six scenes don’t add much to the story, mostly filling in little details that probably didn’t need to be included in the first place. They are a one-time watch that adds nothing revelatory to the movie’s meaning.
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.