DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

Friday, 9 January 2009


Revolutionary Road (2008) dir. Sam Mendes
Starring: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates


Sam Mendes’ reteaming of the Titanic bunch – Kate and Leo – has resulted in a sometimes inspired sometimes overworked tragedy about the disillusionment of a marriage.

The idea of filming a 48 year old novel which skewers the soullessness of suburban conformity seemed way out of date. Old news really. Why go to a place where so many filmmakers have gone to before? But Richard Yates 1962 prize-winning novel seemed to be the literary high mark on the subject, and so maybe the team commanded by the master of literary adaptations Scott ‘Superproducer’ Rudin could turn this into the definitive film on the subject.

It’s the 1950’s in an unnamed suburban town. Frank and April Wheeler are married with two kids – a bickering couple who can break into a screaming match of hateful words in an instant. Both April and Frank seem to hate their saccharine existence – Frank commuting to his soul-sucking desk job every day and April tending to her two kids like what is expected of her. Its April who takes the initiative to find a solution and mend their marriage. She proposes to relocate to Paris and start a new life. The plans reinvigorate the couple and everything seems on the right track.

Despite the shocked reactions of their friends the Wheelers are resolute in their plans. But slowly events transpire which challenge the ability to keep their plans afloat and thus their marriage.

Though Kate and Leo share equal billing, it’s Kate’s film. April is the driving engine of the action. We empathize with her predicament and understand how the emotional tightrope she’s walking can suddenly cause the outbursts of anger and tears. Their situations are accessible to any married couple. How do you keep both people happy in a relationship with so many expectations attached to it? Occasional melodramatic contrivances in the first half are easily overlooked because we desperately want the Wheelers to be happy and achieve their goals. But with so much working against them the tension becomes palpable and intense.

The film goes from good to great when Michael Shannon enters the film. For those who don’t know Michael Shannon, you should. He’s one of the finest character actors working today. His work on indies “Bug” and “Shotgun Stories” is near legendary. Shannon plays John, the insane son of April’s neighbours. In a couple of powerful scenes John manages to read the dynamic of the couple with pinpoint accuracy and expose the subterfuge which clouds their relationship. Shannon’s performance is simply phenomenal.

Unfortunately the film drowns itself under a number of show-off scenes of shouting and angry destructive behaviour from Di Caprio. Leo’s showcase scene of fury in the third act lacks any truth or believability. It reeks of a ‘movie scene’ – written and performed not out of truth of character but of the needs for heightened drama. The film never recovers and settles into a predictable and over-stylized finale.

Which brings us back to Yates’ original novel (which I haven’t read). Call me crazy, but wouldn’t this film be much more powerful if told in the present? The politics and culture of the 50’s do not affect the dynamic of April and Frank’s relationship. The conundrums and conflicts faced by April and Frank are the same ones many couples face today. And so setting the film over 50 years ago distances us from the pain.

As the film unraveled I kept thinking about Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” which stayed truthful to its characters and never went outside of it’s own reality. “Revolutionary Road” comes to close to honesty but in the end comes off as entertaining fakery. Enjoy.


Anonymous said...

whoever wrote this review is a complete dissapointment. do you really think films must take place in the current day to be relevant? who hired you?

AJ said...

No he doesn't Mr. Anonymous. But he let us know that it might have a better connection with audiences if it was set in present day.

Ben said...

I suppose Mendes and co. were trying to be fateful to the book in regard to the film's time period.
I really could care less as I found the film a complete bore. It is as simple as that.

Jason said...

i couldn't agree more with most of the post, but I feel like you let Winslet off the hook a little bit for the contrived heightened anger of the last argument. She lost her character a bit and went into the sarcastic laugh that we've seen her do in many other films, into an immediate, almost farcical switch to level 10 anger.
I actually believed DiCaprio a little more since his unnecessary and over-zealous "fit" kind of fit in with the continuing theme of him trapped in perennial boyhood and just crying about it instead of doing anything.

Alan Bacchus said...

Good observations with the Winslet laughter thing. I agree. Thanks,

Anonymous said...

This couple could've almost been my parents. My parents were two years younger than this couple and I was a few months old in 1955. My mother was a former singer (and very talented) trapped in a suburban housewife life with my father, who was a selfish, cheating, white-collar alcoholic in the Washington, DC/Northern Virginia area. My mother even had two illegal abortions during her marriage (they were performed by a doctor, thank God), and she also found herself pregnant after having 3 children, which proved to be her breaking point in their 14 year marriage. She had gone through a few years of depression and therapy and finally found the courage to leave my father and go back to work.

This film really makes you think about how restricted the roles of women really were until the feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s began to open doors previously closed to women.

The scenes of the smoke and liquor were perfectly reminiscent of the time, and the details, down to the bathroom fixtures, kitchen cabinets and furniture, were perfect 1950s-1960s suburban replicas.

If the film were to be set in today's world, it would be ridiculous because women can do almost anything (except become President of the United States) today. Today women can choose to be stay at home moms, if they can afford it, and it's considered a luxury!

Now women don't need to be married to some louse just to survive in this world. Thank God!!!

The film gave me a better appreciation of the sacrifices stay at home moms made for children who were born in the 50s and those of dads who worked in dead end jobs to support their children. (My father had a great job, BTW.)

Everyone takes their parents for granted, don't they? They had dreams and feelings and needs of their own, that had nothing to do with being our parents. I think if there's a relevant message to young people today, it's this: Your mom and dad are independent people first, and your parents second.