(director: Sam Mendes; screenwriters: Justin Haythe/based on the novel by Richard Yates; cinematographer: Roger Deakins; editor: Tariq Anwar; music: Thomas Newman; cast: Leonardo DiCaprio (Frank Wheeler), Kate Winslet (April Wheeler), Kathy Bates (Helen Givings), Michael Shannon (John Givings), Kathryn Hahn (Milly Campbell), David Harbour (Shep Campbell), Dylan Baker (Jack Ordway), Zoe Kazan (Maureen Grube), Richard Easton (Howard Givings), Jay O. Sanders (Bart Pollock), Max Casella (Ed Small); Runtime: 119; MPAA Rating: R; producers: John N. Hart/Scott Rudin/Sam Mendes/Bobby Cohen; Paramount Vantage; 2008)
“It reunites again Titanic doomed shipmates Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates, but this time as doomed suburbanites.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A younger bad-marriage version of George and Martha’s in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that’s especially suited for the suburban crowd disillusioned over the dark side of the American Dream. Theater-director-turned-filmmaker Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”/Jarhead”/”Road to Perdition”) keeps this period film, based on the debut 1961 novel by Richard Yates and written by Justin Haythe, as a modern-day dissection of a suburban marriage that paints the ‘burbs as an empty, soulless place fit only for conformists and those with no life left in them. It reunites again Titanic doomed shipmates Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates, but this time as doomed suburbanites. The thoughtful mature drama is good in putting the rocky marriage under the microscope and gets outstanding caustic nuanced performances from the lost in the ‘burbs couple Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, but can never reach greater heights or insights than merely nailing down the trap the couple laid for themselves by allowing life to seemingly pass them by while they are just barely 30.
It’s set in the booming postwar period of the 1950s, where many city dwellers yearn to buy into the dream of owning a picture-perfect house in the idyllic suburbs. A seemingly ideal WASPish couple–the handsome office salesman for a giant Manhattan business machine corporation, Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio), and his attractive aspiring actress wife April (Kate Winslet), buy a dream house in the suburbs of Connecticut on Revolutionary Road and raise a boy and a girl. He’s your typical commuter and she’s your typical doting bored housewife, who acts in the community’s amateur theater.
Instead of being happy after seven years of marriage, they both feel trapped by suburban life. He hates his uninspiring job (it’s the same company where his father worked for twenty years as a salesman and he swore when he was young that he would never be like his father) and she’s embittered that she never made it as a professional actress (and, is bored with her dull surroundings). April suggests they start over by moving to Paris, idealized by the Americans as the perfect sophisticated spot to find out what they both wish to do in life. He’s at first stunned and then agrees, as she enthusiastically plans on getting a high-paid secretarial job in a government agency to support him while he does nothing but try to find his thing by living a bohemian life. Their cloddish neighbor friends Milly (Kathryn Hahn) and Shep Campbell (David Harbour) think it’s a childish plan, as do all their other acquaintances. But everyone is too polite to tell them this to their face. The only one who understands when Frank says half jokingly and half seriously “We’re running from the hopeless emptiness of the life here” is John Givings (Michael Shannon), the mentally sick son of their busybody real-estate agent Helen Givings (Kathy Bates). John has a doctorate in math, but evidently that didn’t help him from being hospitalized at a private psychiatric facility and he has just been released after receiving electroshock treatment to remove his aggressive behavior to make him fit better into the quiet life in the ‘burbs. Amazingly, the guileless John is the only one in the film who tells the truth to someone’s face and doesn’t mind saying it even if it hurts the parties concerned.
When April finds herself pregnant and wants to abort the baby, Frank will not hear of that and decides to chuck the Paris move and instead take a lucrative job in the up-and-coming computer field. It leads to their not so perfect marriage being exposed for all the cracks in it that are of their own doing and have little to do with their suburban life.
The melodrama goes down the familiar road of suburban angst by covering infidelities (he with the new office secretary bimbo -Zoe Kazan; she with her melancholy next-door neighbor Shep); a number of heated spats where each spouse really lays it into the other (indicating that perhaps a divorce would have been an ideal solution to their problematic marriage); flashbacks to rosier times that made them think they were once in love; and finally to a tragic conclusion that makes sense if you follow how immature and unable the couple are to communicate to the other what they really feel.
Though it opens no new doors it still works as an enterprisingly solid adult drama, something that one might have seen on TV during the late 1950s in shows like Playhouse 90 with the only change that in the 21st century it’s given more freedom to bring up adulterous sex and abortion.
REVIEWED ON 12/13/2008 GRADE: B+