Did we begin questioning the American Dream with Richard Yates' acclaimed 1961 novel Revolutionary Road? Or was he reporting something that began in the unquestioning 1950s?
Call us selfish or childish, but the marriage with two children, house in the suburbs, Oldsmobile in the driveway, everything and everyone buttoned down — you didn't have to be a beatnik to see that as suffocating.
Yates' novel becomes a polished, perfectly cast film of dreams deferred and angst unleashed in the hands of Sam Mendes and his stars, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. We knew years before TV's Mad Men that the '50s weren't as conservative and sedate as history once treated them. But for all the dated clothes and vintage cars, Revolutionary Road feels less like the period piece that Mad Men plainly is. The “dream” trap feels as relevant now as it did when Yates' novel was heralding the birth of the '60s.
Frank (DiCaprio) works in an office in the city at a job he hates but endures because he and perfect wife April (Winslet) have two children and a house. He puts the halfhearted moves on secretaries, drinks at lunch and doesn't take the job the least bit seriously. But he has turned 30. He has responsibilities.
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April, like Frank, dismisses their neighbors and colleagues as “those people” with their boring, bourgeois lives. But she wonders what happened to Frank the curious free spirit she met at a Manhattan party and married seven years ago. And she's really upset at what has become of her. Frank can see it in the once-aspiring actress's eyes as she takes a curtain call for a community theater disaster she has just starred in — fear, grief, regret.
“I saw a whole other future,” she says. “I can't stop seeing it.”
They fight the way couples fight, covering familiar ground. And then April hits on a solution to save their stifled souls. But hope, as we all know, can be the cruelest trap of all.
Mendes (American Beauty) has filmed this as a showcase for his wife, Winslet, the finest actress of her generation. And she doesn't e_SDHpdisappoint. Her rages are straight out of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, her heartbreak breaks our own hearts.
DiCaprio has held on to his boyish charm, but his acting still seems mannered — too many gestures, too much working the eyebrows.
Kathy Bates is marvelous as the too-friendly real estate agent who wants to stay friends, if only to give her volcanic son (Lexington native and Oscar nominee Michael Shannon, brilliant) a hip couple to chat with on his furloughs from the mental hospital. He has had a breakdown, but sometimes it takes a madman to see the obvious. The perfect couple is doomed.
Mendes has made a troubling film that wrestles with big themes and touchy subjects, even if it is set in an overly familiar milieu. And he has given his wife the perfect role for her range, her empathy and her beauty.