Story

Based on the book by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day is narrated by Henry Wheeler (Tobey Maguire) as an adult. The movie is about the time when Henry was 13 years old and an escaped convict spent a five-day holiday weekend with Henry and his mother, Adele (Kate Winslet).

Adele and 13-year-old Henry (Gattlin Griffith) have been on their own for some years since Henry’s father Gerald (Clark Gregg) left Adele for another woman. Adele has suffered depression since and rarely leaves her home except for a monthly shopping trip.

On one of these trips a badly injured Frank (Josh Brolin) approaches Henry and persuades Adele to give him a lift to their home. Frank has jumped out of a hospital window to escape prison. Adele tends to his wounds and Frank fits right in, cooking, cleaning, mending things around the house and teaching Henry to play baseball. The police are on the lookout for Frank so he has to be careful. In the short time that he is there, Frank and Adele fall in love and plan to escape to Canada, but their plans go sadly awry.

Themes

Dysfunctional families; stepfamilies; loss and grief; depression

Violence

Labor Day has some violence. For example:

  • Frank appears with blood on his t-shirt and face. When Adele is reluctant to take him in her car he puts his hand around Henry’s neck in a threatening way.
  • Frank ties Adele’s hands and feet to make it look as if he has broken into her house.
  • Frank grabs Adele by the throat when there is a knock at the door.
  • In a flashback scene Frank hits his wife because he’s seen her with another man. She falls over and hits her head and dies.
  • A neighbour brings her autistic son Barry around for Adele to look after. Barry tries to tell his mum about Frank, but his mum thinks he’s being naughty and slaps him.

Content that may disturb children

Under 8

In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, Labor Day has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under eight years. For example, Adele and Henry are scared by Frank at first because he looks like a hard man and behaves in a threatening way. 

From 8-13

In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, Labor Day has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:

  • Frank tells how he jumped out of a window to escape from prison.
  • The television news reports that Frank is a convicted criminal and is serving 18 years for murder.
  • Frank’s wife is shown dead on the floor. The bath is shown overflowing, and it looks like his baby has drowned.
  • The wound on Frank’s stomach opens up and looks quite nasty.
  • Henry tells Eleanor that they’re going to Canada, and she guesses that they’re harbouring Frank. She tells Henry the story of Bonnie and Clyde – how they were killed by federal agents and how there was blood everywhere. Henry imagines his mother and Frank being shot in the car by the police, with him hiding in the back seat. 

Over 13

Younger children in this age group could be concerned by some of the scenes from Labor Day mentioned above. They might also be concerned by the following scenes:

  • Adele tells Frank about several miscarriages in her past. These are shown in flashback. They start with Adele getting severe stomach cramps then ending up on the toilet with blood running down her legs.
  • One baby she does carry to full term is stillborn. Adele is shown cradling her dead baby. 

Sexual references

Labor Day has some sexual references. For example:

  • Henry makes Adele a ‘husband for the day’ voucher book for her birthday. As an adult he talks about the fact that he was too young to understand the full implications of this.
  • Adele talks to Henry about sex – how it feels to ‘hunger for human touch’ and feel desire.
  • Henry meets Eleanor (Brighid Fleming) who tells Henry she’s been sent to live with her dad because her mum has a new boyfriend and wants her out of the house so that they can have sex. Eleanor tells Henry that sex affects the brain and acts like a drug.
  • Gerald’s stepson Richard (Lucas Hedges) tells Henry that people might think he’s gay if he takes up dancing.
  • Richard’s mum says that if she were still in school, she’d think that Richard and Henry were both cute. Richard tells her he wouldn’t have been born then and it would be incest anyway. 

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

Labor Day shows some use of substances. For example, a scene shows some people drinking in a bar. 

Nudity and sexual activity

Labor Day shows some nudity and sexual activity. For example:

  • A flashback shows Frank and a young woman briefly having sex, but they have their clothes on.
  • Henry and Eleanor kiss briefly. 

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in Labor Day: Ritz biscuits; Coppertone; Cheerios; Coke, Fanta and Sprite; and Quik. 

Coarse language

None of concern 

Ideas to discuss with your children

Labor Day is a melodramatic, romantic movie that shows how vulnerable lonely, single women can be. It is filmed in beautiful locations and this helps to balance the sadness of the story. Despite having a 13-year-old boy as a main character, the themes and disturbing scenes make this movie unsuitable for children. Younger teenagers might also find it disturbing.

The main messages from this movie are about not accepting things on face value but seeking out the truth. The movie is also about the powerful and strong bond between mother and son.

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include supportiveness, acceptance, selflessness, love and compassion.

Labor Day could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues such as:

  • walking out on your family when things get difficult
  • allowing a stranger into your car and home
  • harbouring a fugitive.