The heat of unexpected passion scorches two lost souls in Jason Reitman’s handsome adaptation of the novel by Joyce Maynard.
Embellished with a present-day voiceover that harks back to events of one sweltering summer in 1987, Labor Day woos us with stirring performances, Eric Steelberg’s sun-dappled cinematography and Rolfe Kent’s elegiac orchestral score.
Scenes between Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin as the doomed lovers simmer with eroticism, including a glorious set-piece with a homemade peach pie that makes our pulses quicken and mouths water.
Fifteen-year-old rising star Gattlin Griffith is equally compelling as the painfully shy teenage son, who witnesses this mending of broken hearts in impossible circumstances.
Yet for all of its impressive qualities - and they are bountiful - Labor Day isn’t quite the sum of its parts.
The condensed timeframe of the central romance strains credibility and some of the subplots feel undernourished. Reitman’s mosaic of flashbacks and reminiscence creates a fractured chronology that hampers dramatic momentum, dissipating the sense of dread and longing that should permeate every impeccably crafted frame.
Labor Day hinges on the screen chemistry between Winslet and Brolin and we believe in their emotional connection, although the film skirts perilously close to melodrama when Frank tells Adele, “I’d take 20 more years in jail just to spend another three days with you.”
Griffith is mesmerising in a demanding role and he wrings out tears beautifully and convincingly at a critical juncture.
A coda, set in the present day, feels cheap and unnecessary.
The heart wants what it wants and according to Reitman, our hearts want to feel warm as we leave the cinema.