The ride is rough on ‘Revolutionary Road’

Revolutionary Road (2008)
119 minutes
Rated – R
Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring:  Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Shannon, Kathryn Hahn, David Harbour, Kathy Bates

revroad-posterGrade:  A-

This review might contain some spoilers.

Let me just say right from the start, this is not an easy movie to watch and therefore it’s not a movie for everyone.  Actually, I expect the majority of the public to be disinterested in the film that deals with the never-ending aches and suffering from a marriage going nowhere.  I also applaud anyone who can actually sit through the two hours of emotionally draining drama without leaving your seat for a breath of much-needed fresh air.

Revolutionary Road is based on a 1961 novel by Richard Yates that explores the lives of a young couple who fall in love in the 50’s and live in suburban Connecticut where their marriage quickly unravels.  It’s devastating to watch the wide-eyed, youth of Frank Wheeler (DiCaprio) and April (Winslet) and their passion to achieve the American Dream during the post-war era crash and burn.  It’s a highway accident you can’t keep your eyes off of, though many will wish they never looked.

With their entire lives in front of them, Frank and April decide to buy a house at the end of Revolutionary Road to raise a family after April got pregnant.  Little did they know that settling in that house, in that town, at that time, was the beginning of the end.

Frank was the typical commuting businessman who unhappily worked in a Manhattan office while April was the house-wife, busy cleaning the dishes, doing the laundry, and pouring her guests drinks.  It’s obvious that April’s craving for more with her life.  As a once ambitious actress, she’s itching to rip off her apron and heels and throw on a pair of shoes to explore the world.  She knows there’s more that life has to offer than this routine, but she’s too late.  Frank is already comfortable, though he doesn’t want to admit it.

The couple was the talk of the town.  People saw them as something rare and special, as if they had the potential of reaching their dreams outside of the community.  That’s when April and Frank were the happiest; when they had something to aspire to.  But as they slowly settled in, their hopes faded away.  How can you be happy standing still forever?  They had nothing to look forward to.  No where to go.  Nothing to say to each other.  Happiness couldn’t exist under those circumstances.

It’s easy to sympathize with the Wheelers.  As the audience, we saw the inside of their house and the trouble that surfaced that no one else witnessed.  Outside of their home, they put on their smiles for the neighbors to see, but inside they were counting the seconds until they could finally return home and sleep miserably in their separate beds.  Living this way would drive anyone crazy, no?  They were an act that was easy to like but painful to know.

As a desperate attempt to save their marriage and their sanity, April proposes an idea to move to Paris.  Frank agrees and with the excitement of a new life the couple is happy again.  But things get complicated when Frank is offered a promotion.  There are other complications too that convince the couple to stay.  Frank promises her, “I can make you happy here.”  She buys in for the time being.

So much happens so subtlety, it’s easy to overlook the cues they give each other, especially when they can’t even detect it.  The way their gestures change, the movement of their walk, the direction of their eyes, the distance between each other… everything is a result to the characters adapting to the current situation.  It’s a marvelous display of acting by both Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.  No one doubted that these two could pull the weight of this film, but with this subject matter… it is truly a brilliant performance by both of them.

The film deals with a lot of deep issues that can plague a marriage.  My favorite was how April was begging to break out of their hopeless emptiness.  You must remember that this is the 1950s.  It wasn’t like women to do anything else than care for the family.  But April is the heroine, clawing her way and trying to be free.  She wants to be happy.  She wants to love her husband.  There’s a bit of Madame Bovary in April in that sense.

Aside from the two leads, Michael Shannon was a delight to watch.  As John, Helen Givings’ son who has been in a mental institution, he’s the only intellect that seems to understand the Wheeler’s problems and agrees that moving out is their only solution.  But during a memorable dinner scene when Frank spills the news that they’re no longer going to Paris, John presses on them to find out the real reason why they’ve canceled their plans to save their marriage.  He wasn’t interested in the illusion the Wheelers tried to play off.  He relentlessly questioned them until the truth came out.  Was John crazy?  I don’t think so.  He was just punished during his time for telling the truth as it was, not sugar-coated like everyone wanted.

This film packs so much power and depth that I was exhausted walking out of the theater.  The screenplay by Justin Haythe is brutally real.  The direction by Sam Mendes (American Beauty) is beautiful.  He was able to cast a spell on the audience, bring us into the Wheelers’ life, forcing us to make assumptions about the characters, and take us on this rollercoaster affair of tension.  This is a great adaptation that captured the lost hearts and confused minds of the married couple.

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