ARIZONA REPORTER




Movie Reviews - 04/12

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD


By Harvey Karten (AZR) - Thirty years ago a colleague of mine, a fellow high-school teacher, moved from Brooklyn, N.Y. to a Long Island 'burb'. I was stunned, because this guy is urbane and regularly told his English classes to question not only authority but commonly held ideas as well. (He moved back to New York within a month.) The idea, of course, was the American Dream: that living with a spouse, two kids and a dog, surrounded by a white picket fence, equals lifelong happiness. What misfortune befalls to the two principals in "Revolutionary Road" may not be entirely the fault of their move to the suburbs, but leaving the city after they had kids didn't help their situation.

Paramount Vantage
Reviewed for Arizona Reporter by Harvey Karten
Grade: B+
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written By: Justin Haythe, from Richard Yates's novel
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Michael Shannon, Kathryn Hahn, David Harbour, Dylan Baker, Richard Easton, Zoe Kazan, Jay O. Sanders, Max Casella
Opens: December 26, 2008


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Since "Revolutionary Road" is the directorial product of Sam Mendes, at the helm in "American Beauty"—about a depressed suburbanite with a mid-life crisis who develops an infatuation with his daughter's good-looking friend—we're not surprised by an anti-suburbs tone throughout the picture. With stunning performances from Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, "Revolutionary Road" could influence moviegoers in their early twenties to forget about marriage, kids, and life outside the major metropolises. Let them at least question the American Dream before leaping to conform to the way of thinking that has such a hold on our society that millions of homeowners are now in serious trouble, unable to pay their mortgages, at risk of losing the very roofs over their heads. And many were not particularly happy even when life seemed secure.

Then again, the movie is not designed to educate or to instill sociological point, but to entertain, and that it does. As pictured by scripter Justin Haythe's adaptation of Richard Yates's 1961 novel, Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his wife April (Kate Winslet) are a well-spoken, intelligent couple who fall in love at first sight when they meet in a dance hall. But their very intelligence will cause them bitter frustrations. She is dismayed by her failure to succeed as an actress, while he, though enjoying an income good enough to support a house in the Connecticut 'burbs' and two kids, hates his job on the 15th floor of the Knox building. Gradually descending into the marital hell that faced George and Martha in Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," they make an impetuous decision to move to Paris with the two kids where she expects to work as a highly-paid secretary while he determines to find what sort of work he is really cut out for. When that impractical plan becomes illusory, the two descend into a morass of ill will, their facial expressions, body language, and a few melodramatic arguments spelling an end to their marriage.

Mendes has a nice touch with the ambiance of the 1950's which, take it from this writer who came of age during that decade, was one of sickening conformity. Large crowds of Organization Men, all wearing Fedoras, march in lock-step from the commuter trains to the workplace. Helen Givens (Kathy Bates), a real-estate agent who sells the Wheelers their house, is a frightful bore. The only major person in the film who dares to speak his feelings is the emotionally disturbed son of Helen Givens and her husband: John (Michael Shannon), fresh from a stay in a psychiatric institution, gives Frank Wheeler hell for caving in to the conformist culture rather than spreading his wings in Europe.

The quick flings that the two have are certainly not sufficient to giving them a sense of life—he with an office secretary, she a quickie in the car with a neighbor. Most interesting to watch are John, the loony-tunes, whose eviscerating prose brings Frank's emotions to fever pitch, and the protean Kate Winslet who can change emotions like a two-year-old going from crying to laughter in seconds. The final scene, a close-up of hearing-impaired Howard Givings (Richard Easton), sums up the story's point. "Revolutionary Road" is a downer, a sad movie like "American Beauty," but filled with the resonance of lives actually lived, lives, to quote Henry David Thoreau, of quiet desperation.

Rated R. 119 minutes. © 2008 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online

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