If you love someone, cook for them. That’s just straight-up excellent advice and an axiom that Labor Day, Jason Reitman’s swoony, sexy 2013 romantic drama, lives and dies by.
At first there seems to be very little appealing about Josh Brolin’s Frank Chambers when he crashes into the lives of depressed single mother, Adele Wheeler (Kate Winslet) and her 13-year-old son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith), in the summer of 1987, not long before the titular holiday. For one thing, he’s an escaped convict on the run, having been found guilty of murdering his wife and baby, which tends to be a dealbreaker. For another, he effectively takes them hostage in their own home.
Frank has hidden depths, though; he’s both sensitive and masculine, drawing the agoraphobic Adele out of her shell and providing Henry with the father figure he desperately needs. Henry, through whose point of view we experience the story, has been the man of the house since his parents’ divorce, taking a crushing weight of responsibility on his young shoulders, but here’s Frank, a specimen of tender manliness so perfect he verges on the mythical, to put their house in order. He teaches Henry how to throw a baseball, he fixes up the family home, and he gently, respectfully romances Adele.
Adapted from the 2009 novel by Joyce Maynard, who once had her own literary dalliance with J.D. Salinger when she was 19 and he was 54, Labor Day is heir to many of the so-called flaws inherent in the romance genre: it’s frequently overwrought, edging towards histrionic at times. It deals in big, primal emotions and archetypal characters and situations, so anyone looking for subtlety and nuance is in for a bad time, although strong performances from Brolin and Winslet do a lot to leaven that. It’s a melodrama at heart, and with that in mind what more sobre critics might call failings are in fact design goals baked into the formula – it’s doing exactly what it says on the tin.
And it’s just so goddamn sensual that it’s impossible not to get caught up in its sweet, late summery tone, all golden light and burnished textures. Director Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) and his regular cinematographer, Eric Steelman, shoot the hell out of the film, filtering the events through the prism of adult narrator Henry’s memory (Tobey Maguire pulls voice-over duties) to deliver something that’s half coming-of-age drama, half modern-day fairy tale.
This peaks in Labor Day’s most famous scene in which Frank, while Henry watches on, makes a perfect peach pie with Adele, a scene that should do for baking what Ghost did for pottery. Watching Brolin as Frank knead the dough as Adele watches on is enough to give even the hardest heart the vapours – if there was an Oscar category for Best Triceps, he’d have a gold statue on his mantel.
For anyone wanting to recreate the scene, a) go you good thing but b) peaches are not in season, and while canned peaches are not necessarily a cardinal sin, fresh ingredients are the way to go. Luckily, SBS Food has a killer recipe for rhubarb and apple pie that should do the trick, satisfying escaped convicts, lonely housewives and sensitive teens alike.
Watch Labor Day at SBS On Demand
Make the rhubarb and apple pie
Bake this delicious pie using this simple recipe at SBS Food.
Browse more pie recipes at SBS Food
When the pie is ready, click play on Labor Day at SBS On Demand.