The suburbs are a very common setting for all sorts of disturbing movies. It’s very unassuming and the perceived tranquility is often juxtaposed with some strange happenings. What about exploring ordinary life in a ‘simpler time’ where things don’t get supernatural or unbelievable, but are just as unsettling because of it? That’s ‘Revolutionary Road.
Mostly set in the 1950’s, Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a April (Kate Winslet) are a married couple with two children. Frank is stuck at a job where he does alright, but he isn’t especially happy. He is following in his father’s footsteps, much to his chagrin. April always had ambition to become an actress, but that didn’t pan out, so she is content to be a housewife for now. On the surface, they seem to be perfect, but that is far from the truth.
April reminds Frank of an idea they once had which might be the key to their happiness. It could also save their marriage. This sets a series of events into motion that threatens to upend their professional and personal lives.
Will they risk everything to pursue their dreams or will they stay the course and sleepwalk through the rest of their lives?
This movie is incredibly depressing because it almost amounts to a two hour long argument. My synopsis doesn’t do this justice, but the element of surprise works in favor of it. Both characters are unhappy with their current situation. At first, Frank comes across as the obvious bad guy. Later, the tables seem to turn but it really does take two to tango. Anyone looking for Leo and Kate to recapture their ‘Titanic’ romance will be very disappointed.
The couple is so uncommunicative and emotionally stunted that it takes their realtor’s mentally disturbed son John (Michael Shannon) to break down their walls and force them to confront their issues. The horrible things he says are uninhibited and improper in any conversation, but it’s cathartic because most of us audience members are probably thinking the same thing about the lead couple. Whereas Frank becomes boisterous and verbally abusive at times, April has a much more passive-aggressive approach. She seems to emotionally check out from the marriage a bit sooner than he does. It’s quite telling that their children are often absent from the story for long stretches. The Wheelers are both self-centered in their own ways.
While it starts off a little rough, the plot really picks up steam as it goes and almost forces you to see how things resolve themselves.
Director Sam Mendes gets good performances out of his leads. They convey a sense of deep resentment toward each other and display a veneer of happiness when in the company of others. Sometimes people think of post-WWII America as being a uniformly happy, sanitized form of life. Maybe some things were very different then, but if this story has any validity, it goes to show that most parts of human nature never really change.
Special features include: commentary, deleted scenes, and a making of featurette.
Like so many of these highly-touted films, ‘Revolutionary Road’ is very easy to admire and appreciate for what it is. That doesn’t mean that it is an easy film to watch or even like. Take it for what it is, have the right expectations for it and be patient.
Rated R 118 minutes 2008
‘Revolutionary Road’ is available to rent/purchase in Allentown, the Lehigh Valley and beyond.