So, the frenetic push for those films in contention for an Oscar is winding down. Hence, the argument can be made that as far as new releases are concerned, we have entered the winter doldrums. We are in that strange period, a glide path of sorts toward spring when the first of the big-tent, tall-pole blockbuster films will begin to appear.
But that isn't to denigrate those small films that will appear in the weeks ahead. Take, for example, the just released "Labor Day," based on the 2009 novel by Joyce Maynard.
Set in a sleepy New Hampshire town, the story takes place over five days, including Labor Day, in 1987.
That Awkward Moment
No matter that some critics find it formulaic and hugely improbable in terms of what might be characterized by some as a pulp plot; there is something very appealing about this film. Perhaps because it's a delicate and subtle character study of three very different people, plus the exceptional portrayals delivered by Kate Winslet as Adele, a reclusive, fragile woman (agoraphobia would not be a stretch), recently divorced (abandoned during a time in her life when she is most vulnerable); or Gattlin Griffith, her 13-year-old son, Henry, who has stepped forward to care for his mom while feeling confusing coming of age emotions regarding his sexuality; and Josh Brolin in the role of Frank Chambers, an escaped felon who slipped away from a local hospital where he had an appendectomy.
Their lives intersect at a local mall. It is there that Frank insists, with an implied threat, that Adele and Henry take him to their house so he can hide from the police who are searching for him and "be on the look out for announcements" on all the news broadcasts.
As the story evolves, a series of flashbacks reveals that Frank is in prison for reasons that are not what they seem, and his inherent kindness begins to prevail. Adele's need for emotional support and contact are so great that she walks through an emotional door that Frank tentatively opens. And then there's Henry, essentially fatherless, who is hungry for male guidance (Frank shows him how to play baseball, change the oil in the car and repair the furnace) and reveals to Henry that he is more than he seems.
If you can accept the premise that a woman like Adele, who has found life suddenly filled with loss and overwhelming exigencies that seem beyond her capacity to deal with, would be drawn to Frank, then all that follows makes a strange kind of sense. If you look at the characters closely, this is not simply a replay of Stockholm syndrome. It is a perfect emotional storm that creates synergistic moments that will change their lives forever.
One last comment regarding "Labor Day": It is told from the point of view of Henry (voiceover by Tobey McGuire, reflecting back on that weekend so long ago). The writers get Henry, as a newbie teen, just about perfect, which is no small thing. He has been parenting his mother and still moving into young adulthood with all of its conflicting emotions. Newcomer Griffith gives a fine performance.
"That Awkward Moment"
"That Awkward Moment," surprisingly, has a title that is in complete synch with the premise of the film. The reference is to that moment when a young woman, in the throes of emotion, looks at the guy and says, "So, where is all this going?" Translated, this means she is wondering about the "c" word, which would be "commitment." Therein lies the awkward moment, one that strikes fear in the hearts of those commitment-adverse guys who have made a pact that they would work on their roster of women to hook up with, but would, at all cost, avoid love.
Of course, there's the "c" vow, which, like a house of cards, begins to crumble as each of the guys finds that their casual hookup attitude toward women is, well, complicated, objectifying and untenable. Facts they are loath to reveal to one another. So they pretend that their feelings are not their feelings, which leads them into emotional cul-de-sacs that are telegraphed way before they happen.
Is this a good date movie? Or a Valentine treat? Indeed. "Moment" has its moments and can be surprisingly charming even if it is a one-note movie.
There is, of course, copious amounts of explicit sex talk and nude scenes, which seem to be de rigueur for films billed as romantic comedies.