June 14, 2009
Review - " Revolutionary Road " - (on DVD) By Roland Hansen
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Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet,
Kathy Bates, David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn
Life sucks and then you move to the suburbs,
or maybe it's the other way around. Sam
Mendes ("American Beauty") returns to the
American suburbs in "Revolutionary Road".
This time, however, the setting is the 1950s, a
decade, when Americans feigned happiness a
lot more than they actually experienced it. In
this case, the seemingly chipper Americans
are Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April
Wheeler (Kate Winslet), a married, nearing-30
couple who create the façade of a cheerful
existence, but find they can only convincingly
play the roles for a short time.
"Revolutionary Road," of course, is notable for being DiCaprio and Winslet's first onscreen reunion since they starred in the
mega blockbuster "Titantic" eleven years ago. Since then, DiCaprio has graduated from heartthrob to serious, adult actor,
starring in movies like "Blood Diamond" and a handful of Martin Scorsese films, even earning Oscar nominations in the
process. But these recent grown-up roles have shared one common trait, and that is the obvious strain in the actor's
performances, which is more evident than ever here. From the opening scene where Frank and April meet at a party, the film
sags under the weight of, not just DiCaprio's strain, but its all-around staginess.
Frank and April sense good things forthcoming when they buy a house on Revolutionary Road in suburban Connecticut.
Frank is a salesman at the same company where his father worked and April has settled down as a mother and homemaker
after a brief, disastrous flirtation with acting. The couple is adamant that suburban malaise won't get the better of them, yet
it's not long before they are completely dissatisfied with their mundane lives. However, April has an idea that will re-energize
them - relocating to Paris.
The plan sounds great initially. Ostensibly, Frank will discover his life's true passions while April supports the family, earning
what she claims are surprisingly high wages as a secretary. But the closer they move to starting over, the further apart they
grow as a couple. As Frank begins to cave in to the temptation of a major career promotion, April realizes she's no longer in
love with him. One more unforeseen development all but puts an end to any notions of moving abroad.
The film's tone is consistent throughout, establishing a bleak mood as we watch the couple argue on the side of a road and
Frank's short-lived affair with an office secretary (Zoe Kazan) before the marriage shows any real cracks. To the director's
credit, he doesn't pummel you with the dismal material, keeping viewers at enough of a distance where we get a clear sense
of the relationship's turmoil without feeling like we're living it. This is largely due to the fact that we don't spend too much
time alone with Frank and April. We get to meet their married friends, Shep (David Harbour), who has a secret crush on April,
and his wife, Milly (Kathyrn Hahn), some of Frank's office buddies and their older neighbor, Helen Givings (Kathy Bates), who
also sold them their home.
The film's most memorable scenes occur when Helen and her husband (Richard Easton) bring their institutionalized son,
John (Michael Shannon), over to the Wheelers. John, a mathematician, may not be the sole person who can see Frank and
April's irreparably damaged marriage for what it is, but he's the only one willing to share his unfiltered observations with the
couple. Though it feels like John has been shot straight out of, say, a David Lynch movie, his two lengthy, comically cruel
scenes inject the film with a spark it's otherwise missing. Those familiar with Shannon's manic performance in "Bug" should
have an idea what they're in store for when he's on screen.
It's not DiCaprio's fault that he appears incapable of aging, but the actor's boyish face doesn't lend itself to the role of
father and businessman. Compounding the problem is how aware he seems at all times of his performance, and how aware
we are that he is simply giving us a performance. Winslet, on the other the hand, plays April with enough subtlety to make
her character considerably more credible. Her apathetic response to Frank's confession of his infidelity is a sad, powerful
scene, perhaps the one time when the film wholly accomplishes what it spends two hours trying to achieve.
"Revolutionary Road" wants to be an aching, melancholy drama that reveals bitter truths along the way, and that is certainly
a fine ambition. Unfortunately, Mendes has made a film that often just leaves you feeling indifferent. Despite some good
qualities, this type of material has resulted in better movies several times before (Married life). "Revolutionary Road" is
overly melodramatic and will bore you to tears. See the afore mentioned "Married Life" if your interested in 1950's suburban
ennui but by all means avoid this film.
You won't have to walk out but you'll wish you never started the movie. Maybe you'd be better off just turning it off after the
first sex scene. There's nothing much worth watching after that.