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It’s the pie scene.
If you buy into the baking sequence in “Labor Day,” if you think Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet are doing something of peach-pie equivalence to the pottery scene in “Ghost,” you’re hooked on a story that requires a fairly serious leap of faith.
If you’re rolling your eyes when they get to the pie scene, you’re probably ready to head for the exits.
“Labor Day” is one of those films sure to divide audiences and critics. Either you go with the almost dreamlike, sometimes logic-defying scenario, or you don’t. I was captivated from the opening sequence and found myself immersed in the first film of 2014 that truly resonated with me.
Based on Joyce Maynard’s novel and set in 1987, “Labor Day” is told from the viewpoint of a young man named Henry (voiced by Tobey Maguire), looking back on a life-defining weekend when he was just 13. (Young Henry is played by Gattlin Griffith, who is up to the task of sharing scenes with two great grown-up film stars.)
Kate Winslet is Henry’s mother, Adele, who is nearly suffocating under the weight of a constant and paralyzing depression that was brought about by a family tragedy. Henry’s father (Clark Gregg), who was once deeply in love with Adele but was unable to cope with her seemingly endless sadness, left and remarried, staying in the small New Hampshire town where everybody seems to know everybody’s business.
Dad keeps trying to get Henry to move in with him and the new family, but Henry wouldn’t dream of abandoning his mother. He is her only reason for getting out of bed in the morning. That Adele doesn’t seem to realize she’s stealing Henry’s youth by requiring his constant presence in the house tells us how far gone she is.
About once a month, Adele squelches her agoraphobia just long enough to drive Henry to the local mall so they can stock up on food and other supplies. Henry escapes his mother’s tether just far enough to wander into another section of the store – and that leads to a chance encounter with a man who says he’d like Henry’s help.
That man is Frank Chambers.
In the first of many sequences that will stretch plausibility, Adele and Henry wind up giving a ride to Frank, who speaks like a gentleman in polite, measured tones but gives off a menacing vibe. (That Frank is seeping blood from a recently sustained injury doesn’t help his cause.)
It is no great spoiler to reveal Frank is a wanted man. This is what “Labor Day” is about. Over the course of a sun-dappled holiday weekend, as the police engage in a furious manhunt for the fugitive they consider to be extremely dangerous and the local news stations warn everyone to be on the lookout, Frank hides out at Adele’s ramshackle house, becoming an instant father figure to Henry while rekindling feelings in Adele she thought were long dead.
In perfectly doled-out flashback snippets, we learn the circumstances of the crime of which Frank was convicted. In the Labor Day weekend scenes, Frank seems like a candidate for Best Possible Stepdad Ever. He tunes up the car, he fixes things around the house, he gives Henry some baseball pointers, he cooks terrific meals and he even teaches Adele how to bake an amazing pie.
But every now and again reality comes knocking, sometimes literally, and Frank shifts into survival mode.
(The recent period piece is such a great device for storytelling. If “Labor Day” were set in 2014, in a world of GPS and the Internet and texting and modern tracking technology, Frank probably never makes it to Adele’s house before he’s caught. In the mid-1980s, when you got your information from the nightly news and the next day’s newspaper, and police were posting “Wanted” fliers on front-yard trees, it’s a different story.)
In lesser hands, “Labor Day” could have played like an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, what with the dark secrets and the us-against-the-world love affair. But writer/director Jason Reitman (“Thank You for Smoking,” “Juno,” “Up in the Air”) is too skilled a filmmaker to let the sentiment overpower the story. There’s just enough edge here to keep us guessing about Frank and his true motivations.
Josh Brolin gives one of his best performances as Frank. We believe this guy is capable of shocking violence – but we also believe he just might be a wronged man with sincere intentions.
Kate Winslet hits some great notes as Adele. We wouldn’t buy the premise of a well-adjusted woman falling so hard and so quickly for a fugitive, no matter how dashing – but someone in Adele’s fragile state just might risk everything for a chance at happiness.
“Labor Day” is an admittedly strange hybrid. Rarely have I seen such outrageous plot points executed with such lovely grace. HHH½
Animas City Theatre
(128 E. College Drive, 799-2281, www.animascitytheatre.com)
Snowdown Follies simulcast. (Friday and Saturday only; both 7:30 shows are sold out.)
Dallas Buyer’s Club. In the fact-based drama, Matthew McConaughey portrays real-life Texas electrician Ron Woodroof, an ordinary man who found himself in a life-or-death battle with the medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies. Rated R.
(102 Fifth St. Next to the railroad depot, 247-8133, www.allentheatresinc.com)
Dallas Buyers Club. (See description above.)
August: Osage County. This is a dark and deeply touching story of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose lives have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Midwest house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman (Meryl Streep) who raised them. Rated R.
Her. Set in Los Angeles, slightly in the future, The odd story of Theodore Twombly, a complex, soulful man in the near future Los Angeles who makes his living writing touching, personal letters for other people. Heartbroken after the end of a long relationship, he becomes intrigued with a new, advanced operating system, which promises to be an intuitive entity in its own right, individual to each user. Upon initiating it, he is delighted to meet “Samantha,” a bright, female voice, who is insightful, sensitive and surprisingly funny. Sounds weird, yes? Rated R.
Durango Stadium 9
(Next to Durango Mall, 247-9799, www.allentheatresinc.com)
La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty). (Wednesday only; Italian with English subtitles.)
Jep Gambardella has seduced his way through the lavish nightlife of Rome for decades, but after his 65th birthday and a shock from the past, Jep looks past the nightclubs and parties to find a timeless landscape of absurd, exquisite beauty.
OSCAR NOMINATED: BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM OF THE YEAR
I, Frankenstein. 200 years after his shocking creation, Dr. Frankenstein’s creature, Adam, still walks the earth. But when he finds himself in the middle of a war over the fate of humanity, Adam discovers he holds the key that could destroy humankind. Rated PG-13.
American Hustle. A con man and woman are forced to work for an FBI agent during the ABSCAM era in the 1970s. Rated R.
Frozen. Inspired by the 19th-century fairy tale, “The Snow Queen,” by Hans Christian Andersen, “Frozen” marks another Disney film modernizing one of the Danish author’s stories. Also showing, a new version will feature on-screen lyrics with a magical bouncing snowflake to follow along. Rated PG.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. This tells a new backstory for Ryan. Inspired by Sept. 11, he joins the Marines and is heroically injured in Afghanistan. During his recovery, he meets his eventual fiancee and is lured to the CIA by a mysterious recruiter. Rated PG-13.
Ride Along. Ben wants to become a cop so he can impress James and win his blessing to marry Angela. James thinks Ben is a clown, so he comes up with a plan to scare Ben away from becoming a cop and from marrying Angela: He’ll take Ben on a “ride along.” PG-13.
The Nut Job. (In standard format and digital 3-D with surcharge). A comedy in fictional Oakton that follows the travails of Surly, a mischievous squirrel, and his rat friend, Buddy, who plan a nut store heist of outrageous proportions and unwittingly find themselves embroiled in a much more complicated and hilarious adventure. Rated PG.
Lone Survivor. The more-or-less true story of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, who was the lone survivor of a mission in Afghanistan that went tragically wrong. Rated R.
Ted Holteen and Associated Press