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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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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog To replace our sins with virtues may seem like a daunting task, but fortunately we can follow the example of the saints who have 
successfully defeated these sins in their lifetimes. They provide us with a way forward so that we, too, can live holy, virtuous lives.

 
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