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LABOR DAY Movie Review, by Curtis Smale (This is a Must-See Movie.)

LABOR DAY is a very good, possibly great, movie. It’s the story of a woman who falls in love with a prisoner on the lam, who forces his way into the house of her and her son. A special relationship develops.

This movie is very important to the times in which we live. That’s the main reason I think it’s great. In this review, I will explain why I think it is a great film, so I will reveal a few details about the film. Since this is a character-driven, not plot-driven, movie, knowing things that happen in the movie doesn’t spoil anything at all. So, please read on. In fact, I think insightful reviews will enhance your appreciation of the film.

I can’t think of another movie that is more dead-on in its presentation of the major social issues of 2014 American culture.

LABOR DAY stars Kate Winslet as a single mother who is forced by a very masculine man, an escaped convict (Josh Brolin), to harbor him in her house (gimme shelter). The reason this movie has such power is that it was adapted from the story of a writer, not a screenwriter.

The story is very simple on its surface. The man’s man forces himself into their house, and, over the course of only a few days, works his way into their hearts.

Now in reality, this level of emotional and relational development would probably take months or even years, but the dramatic developments are compressed into four days. And, when someone falls deeply and madly in love, that is often the way things happen, right? This aspect of the film reminds me of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY.

Some movies are, “not about what they are about.” This one is.

This film is a story about all that we have lost in American culture, and so very recently. The movie is set in 1987, about the time that a lot of our current disastrous cultural changes were just beginning.

The movie celebrates the physical and emotional and role-based differences between men and women and how we function with each other and in society. This is a beautiful thing. When I heard about this film, I was hoping it would show these things, and it didn’t disappoint.

The boy, maybe 14, is on the verge of understanding the basics of the adult world. His bedroom door has an E.T. poster on it, symbolizing his youth and innocence.

As a second tribute to Spielberg, the three of them are seen sitting on a couch in (their) living room watching TV: the final shot of the mothership flying off into the stars as the credits roll, in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, (one of my all-time favorite movies). CE3K was released in 1978. I love that movie so. I identified the End Title theme music right away, and am so glad they put that tribute in there. It reminds me of the almost subliminal shot of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS that is in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. And that movie, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, has its roots in a story that goes back almost to the beginning of time, near the very beginnings of large civilizations. Movies are our common cultural references, and I love that they are often integral to our current movies.

As a brilliant cue, the credits rolling in this scene indicate that the falling action of the third act of the movie is about to begin.

Also, I love movies that show periods of time that I have personally lived through: the pre-computer-dominated, wood-paneled, slower and simpler days of the ’80s. This always feels like time-travel to me, if it is done well.

The man in this story is a manly man. He knows how to do things. He fixes the woman’s home and her car (there’s a living metaphor for ya). He teaches the boy baseball pitching technique and how to change a tire. He also cleans the floor (twice) and makes food (twice). He fixes, makes right, protects, strengthens, and leads and feeds the family (his family). He’s a real man. He also -dances- with Winslet. He makes up for all that Winslet’s first husband lacked, which was just about everything. The single mother had either given up making meals or had never learned to make them, because she buys all of her food as cans at the grocery store, the clerk in the movie tells us.)

As the movie progresses, Brolin shaves off his beard to look different to the police that are looking for him, but also (thematically) to look more like the “man” he is replacing (Winslet’s former husband.) Also, it is a symbol of his adjustment to domestic life.

Brolin gently ties up Winslet to give plausible deniability to Winslet if she ever needs to testify to the bare facts of what happened.

But he is really tying her up with the bonds of his ~love~.

This movie is important because it shows us how different men and women really are, and how much we need each other. It throws a huge rock through the window of feminism. It also takes a mediated jab at homosexuality, with her son’s friend and his parents thinking he might be gay if he takes up dance instead of sports.

There is a scene involving making a peach pie that conjures the pottery scene in GHOST, redone as a family bonding set-piece.

This movie shows that there are needs and desires that are so deep in men and women that people will do extreme things to fulfill them (like make a run for Canada, or say that a few days with the love of your life would outweigh being in prison for years).

Kate Winslet’s character has been devastated because of several miscarriages. Her husband left her because of her grief and sadness about them. Brolin, a real man, understands the deeper meanings of things. What was printed in the newspaper about him being a murderer is not all that there is to his case (truth matters). He tells Winslet that he has never intentionally harmed anyone (he has morality). He knows she is a woman worth fighting for, not merely because she is beautiful, but because she has heart, kindness, and character.

This story shows the contrast between a real man and a real woman–and people who are run by intellectualism and the cheap, unrealistic, and unworkable social ideas of our day.

People fall in love with other people for their character, their beliefs, their personality, and their uniqueness (and flaws) as a person.

This movie shows that even when logic and social reality force two people apart, there is sometimes an immortal love that lives on in the hearts of those touched by self-sacrificing love, the ultimate reality. Even romantic love transcends physical reality, and partially transcends emotional reality, as shown by Winslet’s explanation of sex and love to her son–her character actually criticises the inhumane, cold, unspiritual, and unemotional character of public school sex education–hallelujah!

True love lives on forever, no matter what, no matter the decisions people make, no matter if time or distance, or even death, separates people.

Labor Day, the holiday, provides an extra day for the events in this story to unfold. Labor day, the labor of a woman giving birth to several miscarried babies, provides the emotional gravity of the story (as it did also in Winslet and DiCaprio’s REVOLUTION ROAD). And, you can see labor pains, pain and grief, on the face of Brolin’s character as the police show up to put him on his knees and carry him away to prison again. And then, there was the all the labor that Brolin performed around the house in those four days. So, their burgeoning love affair has been killed at its birth. I love symbolism in movies.

There is a little more to be desired from the directing, a few momentary dead spots and rhythms that could’ve been improved, but in a few more films, Jason Reitman will rise to mastery in that.

There is something in humanity that cannot be eliminated by politically correct education, or by feminism, or by the homosexual movement: Reality.

Men want certain things, and women want certain things, no matter what. Neither can have, or should want, all of the advantages of the other sex.

Children need a mother and a father.

There is such a thing as right relations between these three.

Morality and truth are important.

This movie is like a giant wake-up gong for our culture.

Copyright 2014 by Curtis Smale