Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn, Zoe Kazan, Richard Easton, Dylan Baker, Jay O. Sanders.
Written by Justin Haythe, Richard Yates (novel).
Directed by Sam Mendes.
By Dan Metcalf
When we last saw Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet together on film, they were clinging to each other in the frozen waters where the Titanic had just slipped to the bottom of the ocean. Such tragic circumstances are not to be seen in Revolutionary Road, a new film starring the same duo, but it's not exactly a 'feel-good' movie either.
DiCaprio plays Frank Wheeler, a 1950s businessman, father and husband to his wife April, played by Winslet. Frank and April appear to be living the 'American Dream,' which, according to stereotypes would be living in a nice suburb, commuting to New York CIty, and having two kids.
But all is not well with Frank and April, who fight constantly, and are apparently drowning rather than thriving in the American Dream. Frank is unhappy and unfaithful, working in a job he hates. April feels no satisfaction in simply being a wife and mother, and longs to return to failed acting career.
One day April comes up with a grand and daring new scheme to drop everything and move the family to Paris, where she will work and support Frank until he finds a direction in his life. Frank jumps at the chance, and the couple seems, at least for a while, to be headed down a blissful path that will allow them to circumvent the drudgery of normal 'Ozzie and Harriet' American life.
All their friends and colleagues are bewildered at the Wheeler's new lease on life, except for the John (Michael Shannon), a newly-introduced psychiatric patient who possesses the existential wisdom to give his stamp of approval to the Paris plan. John is the adult son of Mary (played by Kathy Bates), the perky real estate agent who got the Wheelers into their supposed dream cottage on Revolutionary Road.
The Wheelers' next-door neighbors Shep and Milly are equally flabbergasted at the Paris proposal, as Shep begins to show signs of a crush on April.
As the move to Paris gets closer, fate gets in the way as April discovers she is pregnant with the couple's third child (the two Wheeler kids get only a few cameos in the movie), and Frank is offered a huge promotion and raise.
With their Paris dream unraveling, the Wheelers begin to argue, especially over Frank's job opportunity and the possibility of getting an abortion, which, at least in April's mind would clear the road for escaping to France.
Revolutionary Road is one of those movies that you have to admire for its cinematic brilliance, albeit weighed down by a crushing dose of depressive social downers (like, say, abortion). One can truly appreciate the performances of DiCaprio, Winslet, and especially Michael Shannon (who got a much-deserved best supporting Oscar nod), but you cannot leave the theater feeling very good.
Sam Mendes is no stranger to ripping the 'American Dream' to shreds. This is the same guy who brought us such feel-good movies as American Beauty, Jarhead, and The Road to Perdition. It would seem as though the acclaimed and talented director has some kind of ax to grind with respect to marriage and families. As in American Beauty, Revolutionary Road depicts marriage as a doomed and fruitless institution, and children as hapless bystanders. Such movies would also make it seem that no married couple is capable of fidelity, and having kids kills dreams.
Revolutionary Road is a little whiny to me as well, what with most contemporary Americans going through a few interruptions of their own dreams in the form a troubled economy. While Frank complains about wanting to "feel" things instead of following a stereotypical path, I'm sure there are a lot of people who might see Revolutionary Road and think to themselves, "Gee, I wish my boss would offer me a raise," or " Gee, I wish I had such a nice house that wasn't about to go through foreclosure."
Yeah, wouldn't it be great if everybody could quit their job to move to France so they could "discover" what to do with their lives? Then again, if such were the case, France would be overrun with a bunch of whiny, lazy Americans.
While it's true many people live lives of 'quiet desperation,' perhaps it's also true that happiness can be found in traditional families. I guess it's okay to examine such desperation, but the again, maybe Ozzie and Harriet had something going for them, and it's depressing that the most talented people in Hollywood can't allow themselves to admit it.