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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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John Henry Newman: John Henry Newman, the 19th-century's most important English-speaking Roman Catholic theologian, spent the first half of his life as an Anglican and the second half as a Roman Catholic. He was a priest, popular preacher, writer, and eminent theologian in both Churches. <br /><br />Born in London, England, he studied at Oxford's Trinity College, was a tutor at Oriel College and for 17 years was vicar of the university church, St. Mary the Virgin. He eventually published eight volumes of <i>Parochial and Plain Sermons</i> as well as two novels. His poem, "Dream of Gerontius," was set to music by Sir Edward Elgar.<br /> <br />After 1833, Newman was a prominent member of the Oxford Movement, which emphasized the Church's debt to the Church Fathers and challenged any tendency to consider truth as completely subjective.<br /> <br />Historical research made Newman suspect that the Roman Catholic Church was in closest continuity with the Church that Jesus established. In 1845, he was received into full communion as a Catholic. Two years later he was ordained a Catholic priest in Rome and joined the Congregation of the Oratory, founded three centuries earlier by St. Philip Neri. Returning to England, Newman founded Oratory houses in Birmingham and London and for seven years served as rector of the Catholic University of Ireland. <br /><br />Before Newman, Catholic theology tended to ignore history, preferring instead to draw deductions from first principles—much as plane geometry does. After Newman, the lived experience of believers was recognized as a key part of theological reflection.<br /> <br />Newman eventually wrote 40 books and 21,000 letters that survive. Most famous are his book-length <i>Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine</i>, <i>On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine</i>, <i>Apologia Pro Vita Sua</i> (his spiritual autobiography up to 1864) and <i>Essay on the Grammar of Assent</i>. He accepted Vatican I's teaching on papal infallibility while noting its limits, which many people who favored that definition were reluctant to do.<br /><br />When Newman was named a cardinal in 1879, he took as his motto <i>"Cor ad cor loquitur"</i> (Heart speaks to heart). He was buried in Rednal (near Birmingham) 11 years later. After his grave was exhumed in 2008, a new tomb was prepared at the Oratory church in Birmingham.<br /><br />Three years after Newman died, a Newman Club for Catholic students began at the University of Pittsburgh. In time, his name was linked to ministry centers at many public and private colleges and universities in the United States.<br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified Newman on September 19, 2010, at Crofton Park (near Birmingham). The pope noted Newman's emphasis on the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society but also praised his pastoral zeal for the sick, the poor, the bereaved and those in prison. American Catholic Blog God’s job, I think, is to keep lovingly disrupting our lives, and our job is to see if there are fresh opportunities for faith hidden within those disruptions. As a result, God keeps finding fresh ways to shake up our complacencies and challenge us to resist the seductive temptation to play the victim.

 
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