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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Labor Day

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin star in a scene from the movie "Labor Day."
Many of the elements that make one or another film objectionable are happily absent from the glossy romantic drama "Labor Day" (Paramount).

Violence is minimal; a single misuse of the Lord's name aside, the dialogue is free of taint; and the movie's portrayal of sexuality is restrained throughout.

Yet the joy of physical passion is one of the primary themes in writer-director Jason Reitman's screen version of Joyce Maynard's best-selling 2009 novel. Consequently, the proceedings are permeated with subtly handled but unmistakable sensuality.

The improbable nature of the plot is equally impossible to miss, despite such potential distractions as the picture's engagingly bucolic look and the skillful performances turned in on all sides.

Adult narrator Henry Wheeler (Tobey Maguire) introduces the bulk of the film in the form of a sustained flashback to his childhood. As a lad of 13 (Gattlin Griffith), Henry is living with his depressed, reclusive mother, Adele (Kate Winslet), a divorcee from whose emotional problems Henry's dad (Clark Gregg) has sought refuge in the arms of his secretary, now Henry's stepmom.

As the 1987 observance of the titular holiday weekend begins, the need to update Henry's wardrobe for the forthcoming school year forces Adele to take a rare drive into town. There she and Henry accidentally cross paths with escaped convict Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin), who appeals to them—not without an unstated threat of violence—to give him temporary shelter in their home. Reluctantly, they comply.

Frank, however, turns out to be quite the houseguest. After assuring his initially intimidated hosts that the case against him is not what it seems, he endeavors to earn his keep by doing various manly domestic chores: repairing a loose step here, quieting a squeaky hinge there. If this endears him to unable-to-cope Adele, a batting lesson is just the thing to win paternally neglected Henry's heart.

Though he may be a handyman and a jock -- not to mention a convicted murderer -- Frank has his softer side too, as he demonstrates by teaching Adele and Henry how to bake a peach pie. Viewers of the trailer for "Labor Day" will know that this process, from which Henry is eventually excluded, takes on a more-than-culinary significance, Frank's concern for the flakiness of his crust notwithstanding.

It's a hop, skip and a jump from the kitchen to the bedroom where Frank and Adele's first romp—they've now known each other for all of 36 hours—is sufficiently enthusiastic to be overheard by Henry. The muffled sounds turn the sleepless young man's fancy not so much to thoughts of love as to the remembered sight of one of his classmate's bra straps.

Indeed, as Frank stokes the banked fires of Adele's eroticism, her carnal revival is uncomfortably juxtaposed with Henry's emerging sexuality. Though our glimpses of the latter only hint at anything beyond a first kiss, the placement of them in tandem with Adele's carryings-on feels queasy. All the more so, since Henry eventually harbors oedipal suspicions that he's been displaced in Adele's affections and that she plans to abandon him by running off to Canada with her wanted man.

It's no spoiler to reveal that Adele and Frank's love shows itself, in the end, ready for the long haul. But that doesn't alter the fact that their relationship took on a physical dimension long before the nature of their bond was, shall we say, ripe?

Oh, those heady peaches.

The film contains fleeting violence, brief semi-graphic premarital sexual activity, another unseen but audible encounter of the same nature, at least one use of profanity and several sexual references. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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