“Plenty of people are on to the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.”
I’m sure many people will compare Revolutionary Road to Titanic. After all, both star Kate Winslett and Leonardo DiCaprio as a couple, both involve Kathy Bates…but this would be a mistake. Revolutionary Road is to Titanic what duck a l’orange is to a quarter pounder with cheese. It’s like comparing apples and toboggans. Or something. The point I’m making is that if you hated Titanic, you might well love Revolutionary Road anyway. And if you loved Titanic you might well love Revolutionary Road as well. This movie is a masterpiece. And it’s nothing like Titanic. I hated Titanic.
DiCaprio and Winslett have most certainly matured in the past eleven years. LeBron James may have been a terrific player when he was 13, but now he is an artist with the basketball. Same goes for these two. Sorry. Once I start with terrible comparisons I can’t stop. I think it’s over now. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett are now two of the best actors – ever. Winslett won the Oscar for The Reader this year, but she was likely more deserving for this film, which is one of the best performances I have seen out of anyone, ever. And DiCaprio is right up there as well. They are both flawless in this movie.
OK, one more comparison. I recently suggested that watching He’s Just Not That Into You was a lot like reading a book. A really lousy, unsatisfying and irritating self-help book about relationships. Revolutionary Road is like reading a book as well. You know how when you read a truly remarkable, powerful, well-written book, and you finish it, and you set it down and you feel utterly satisfied? That’s a feeling I rarely get after watching a movie, but this one certainly qualifies. When it was over, I felt emotionally drained, completely spent, and utterly satisfied. Then I went back and watched it again, because it’s rare that you can get that feeling in less than two hours.
The basic premise of the story is that DiCaprio and Winslett are the new, young couple in the neighbourhood. It’s the 1950s, they are suburbanites, and they are the Showcase Couple in the neighbourhood – young, happy, beautiful, loving and smart. Kathy Bates plays the real estate agent who found them their house, on Revolutionary Road, and she is magnificent as the lady who holds the couple up to this ridiculous standard of suburbia. She may as well show them instead of houses, so convinced is she that merely observing this perfect couple would be enough to change peoples’ lives. And maybe move into the neighbourhood.
“Our whole existence here is based on the premise that we’re special. That we’re somehow above the whole thing.”
In fact, she brings her son to meet the Wheelers, because she seems to think that they have some kind of almost-mystical healing power. Her son is a mental patient, and he does some crazy things, but at the same time he’s the one character in the movie that makes the most sense. His scenes are hilarious, but he also serves as a mirror for the couple, reflecting their exact state of mind at all times. He is the only one in the movie, other than the Wheelers themselves, who understands the fake happiness of 1950s suburbia, who can cut through the BS to the quick of the situation – depression and emptiness and the feeling of being trapped in their own lives.
“You know, you’re probably lucky you met me.”
Frank (DiCaprio) is having an affair with a girl at work. Not a gorgeous girl. Nowhere near April (Winslett) in the looks department. But it’s an escape for him from the crushing boredom of his suburban life. When April finally admits to herself what their situation is, she takes action. She wants to pack up and move. Frank, and April, and the kids, can all drop everything and move to Paris. There, she will get a job as a secretary, support the family, and allow Frank to flourish and do whatever he likes. The idea is that if they just take off and start over, and if Frank is free to be creative and smart and free on his own terms, he will once again become the Frank with whom she fell in love. It’s a nice idea.
Of course, we know that there will be several obstacles to this future imagined happiness. And the first arises when Frank is offered a promotion at work. As often happens in life, he gets noticed and celebrated at work the second he decides to go to Paris and stops caring so much about what he does. The lure of this potential promotion conflicts with the lure of their potential new life. Then a pregnancy complicates things further. It’s not immediately clear whether Frank is using the baby as an excuse to stay and take his big promotion, or whether he genuinely thinks it’s better to stay where they are in order to take care of one more mouth to feed. But his motivation soon becomes clear. And the crazy guy sure knows what’s going on.
“It takes backbone to lead the life you want”
A movie more about the time (the 50s) than about suburban ennui, Revolutionary Road is powerful, depressing, but still somehow exhilirating and inspirational. The Wheelers seem to buy into their own myth to some degree, but in reality they are just as ordinary and boring as their neighbours. It’s their inability to face up to this fact that causes their marriage to deteriorate as badly as it has, and nothing they do can fix this. Moving to Paris is an idea that is just as pointless as getting a promotion – nothing they do will really change their lives, because they are both different people than they want to think they are.
The movie is uncompromisingly dark, and depressing, with precious little humour, almost all of it coming from John Givings (Michael Shannon), the crazy guy. Shannon’s performance is almost the equal of those of DiCaprio and Winslett, and without him this film could be almost intolerably bleak. But we do get to revel in his incredibly perceptive insanity, and in his mother’s deluded fantasies about the Wheelers, and in his father’s cantankerous no-BS attitude. Sam Mendes has done a wonderful job with the film, as well as with the actors, creating a suffocating atmosphere in which the Wheelers live, and he allows the actors to shine.
Every frame of this movie is beautifully shot out, every scene is acted magnificently, and even the music and the lighting are noticeably perfect in creating a tone. Mendes rose to fame with American Beauty, which was also a film about similar subject matter – suburban dissatisfaction. But the two movies couldn’t be more different, and Mendes has created his best movie with Revolutionary Road. It’s a masterpiece, out Tuesday June 2nd from Paramount Home Entertainment.