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  • Jared Huizenga

‘Labor Day’ is like Patty Hearst meets ‘The Notebook’

It doesn’t take very long to figure out that “Labor Day” isn’t quite like most of the romance stories you see on the big screen.

The pieces are all there: attractive leads playing the roles of the star-crossed lovers; the inevitable hurdles that pop up along the way; and the power of love to overcome all obstacles.

What “Labor Day” has that most great romantic stories don’t have is a “hero” that kidnaps – for lack of a better word – his love interest and hides out at her house, waiting for the heat to die down over his escape from prison.

In this case, Adele Wheeler (Kate Winslet) is our Patty Hearst. A depressed single mother, Adele lives with her teenage son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith) in a small rundown house. While making one of their monthly runs to a big box retailer for supplies, Henry is approached by Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin), who in this analogy will be our Symbionese Liberation Army.

Chambers – an escaped prisoner – convinces Adele that it’s in her and Henry’s best interests to take him to their house so he can wait things out.

Over the course of the long Labor Day weekend, Chambers cooks, cleans and fixes things around the house and in a very short amount of time becomes the man of the house. Adele, who is incredibly lonely and in need of male companionship, falls for him … despite not knowing the full nature of his crimes.

It’s like Stockholm Syndrome, but with a lot more dancing and kissing.

Along the way we learn more about why Frank was in prison and what led to Adele’s fragile state. The stories shed some light on why they are the way they are, but does little to answer the “how” in terms of their love story.

Can this hastily-assembled family survive or will Frank’s criminal past, Adele’s emotional fragility or Henry’s teenage insecurities derail them?

Well, in order to not spoil things for you, I’m not going to say. What I will say, however, is that “Labor Day” is very, very different from most romantic movies out there.

My main gripe with the whole film (and it is a BIG one) is that even at 111 minutes long, the movie feels rushed. I find it very hard to believe that anyone can go from terror to head-over-heels, once-in-a-lifetime love, over the course of a long weekend. Maybe, it’s one of those things you have to live through to know for sure though.

Having not read Joyce Maynard’s 2009 book of the same name, I’m not sure how the two stories compare. Obviously, books provide more context for back story, conversations, internalization, etc. Maybe all of my questions would be answered better on the page.

Outside of the main cast members, who are all very good, there are some recognizable names/faces, including James Van Der Beek and J.K. Simmons, but they’re virtually there for nothing more than cameos.

Tobey Maguire also serves as the film’s narrator, telling the story through the eyes of adult Henry looking back on the weekend. I wish the narrator role would have been utilized a little more to help fill in the blanks of how the story escalated from hostage situation to love affair so quickly.

When I spoke to Maynard a couple of weeks ago, she asked whether I thought of the film as a “chick flick.” I told her no and even when looking back, I’m going to stick with it. When I think “chick flick,” I think either Kate Hudson-style romantic comedies (“How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”) or heave cry-inducing sappy stories (“The Notebook”) … “Labor Day” hovers somewhere in between.

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, couples will be looking for something they can watch together. Given the deep and sometimes dark moments provided in “Labor Day,” I wouldn’t recommend it for a romantic night out.

However, if you’re ever looking for something to provide some levity into your own dysfunctional relationship, this might be right up your alley.

★★½ of ★★★★★

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