Tied Up

Labor Day teaches us that you might just fall in love with a kidnapper

Ladies! Single? Lonely? Starved for human touch? Why not get yourself kidnapped and held hostage by an escaped convict? Guaranteed relationship starter!

I couldn't believe this is where Labor Day goes. I'm dumbfounded it does so without the slightest sense of irony or even a hint of awareness that this could be problematic. Stockholm syndrome as actually, genuinely, for-reals romantic? Are they kidding us?

It's Labor Day weekend 1987, and single mom — and very likely clinically depressed woman — Adele (Kate Winslet) is shopping with her young teen son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) when they're approached by Frank (Josh Brolin). From the middle of a busy store, this large, shifty man, suspiciously bleeding from a wound in the gut, kidnaps Adele and Henry and forces them to take him to their home. He proceeds to tie them up, as you do when you're an escaped convict who needs a place to hide out.

Later, Frank makes breakfast, does some handyman jobs around the house, and generally engages in enacting a parody of husbandness. Later still, after some untying, Adele starts gazing at Frank in horrifyingly besotted ways, and — as desperately suggestible as she is — begins to call her son "Hank," as Frank has been doing.

I must stress once again that writer and director Jason Reitman, adapting a novel by Joyce Maynard, sincerely expects that we will find this all terribly romantic. In case there's any doubt that Reitman is being straight with us — he's better known for snark such as Young Adult and Thank You for Smoking (and some sort of contempt for the regressive attitudes on display here is desperately needed) — we're treated to a voice-over narration by adult Henry today (Tobey Maguire), who relates these events for us, slathering them all in a gooey nostalgia for that time when he and his mom were kidnapped by an escaped convict and his mother fell in love with the guy.

To reiterate, in case it's unclear: Stockholm syndrome as romantic? Totally fine. Mom, baseball, and apple pie? Don't be absurd.

Of course Winslet and Brolin are amazing: it's who they are. But that only makes Labor Day even more horrifyingly wrongheaded. This isn't cheesy, sensationalistic crap we're dealing with here. It's elegant awards bait: Winslet was nominated for a Golden Globe, for the love of human bondage. Which is totally fine if you want to make falling in love with your violent kidnapper look gorgeous and appealing.♦

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    Maryann Johanson

    Maryann Johanson