‘How do you break free without breaking apart?’
Director: Sam Mendes
Writers: Justin Haythe (Screenplay), Richard Yates (Novel)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Michael Shannon
Somewhere in your neighbourhood there’s an old married couple. The man is a bitter alcoholic who hates his job. His wife (also an alcoholic) is cold, mean and resigned from life. Wind back the clock forty years and meet this couple again. There you will find Frank and April Wheeler in Revolutionary Road.
We start with Frank and April at a college party, giving each other flirty looks (OMFG Kate and Leo are back together finally lol!) before we fast forward to the same couple a short time later in the throws of suburban hopelessness, where neither can seem to squeeze any happiness out of the American dream they have tried to buy into. Frank works all day at the same ambiguous firm his father did, lucidly aware he’s given up his dreams to be there. April, now a reluctant housewife stares out her prison-like windows at the other houses as if they were a million miles away. Soon we see that a similar distance is starting to separate Frank and April, but April has a plan. Move to Paris. There she can work while Frank helps raise the kids and figures out his true passion. After Frank agrees the Wheelers are afloat with the idea of leaving their suburban confinement and for a brief moment you might actually believe they’re going to be okay.
But this is a Sam Mendes movie, the director of American Beauty and Jarhead so we’re not going to get off that easy. At first this movie seems to explore the illusion that we have to give up our dreams and our happiness in order to live up to our “responsibilities” that in fact no one is enforcing upon us but ourselves. And while the film explores these themes there is a palpable sadness evident on screen that is, at times, breathtaking. What works in these scenes as well is the almost tangible weight of society’s expectations on this young couple. Society as Antagonist is a hard thing to pull of, but Mendes seems to portray it well. However, what I felt diminished the initial power of the message in this movie is how hard Mendes and screenwriter Haythe shoved it down my throat. The dialogue is honest and sharp-edged, but often overly didactic, like the actors are simply shouting the themes of the book at each other and this continues to the point of exhaustion. A weakness too is the essential conceit that we buy into the Wheelers as two dreamers forced into exile. The exile is vivid, brought to ethereal life by acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins (No Country For Old Men) who shows us living rooms full of shadows behind shiny facades. But dreamers are nowhere to be seen. Frank especially feels not like a lost soul, but just an embittered one. But after the pressure builds to a boil there is a profound shift in the story punctuated poetically by Kate Winslet in a tragic scene in a bar where she tries to articulate to a neighbour exactly what she wants in her life. Here the movie becomes not about what happens when we fight against suburban oppression, but what happens when we stop fighting.
Will someone give Kate Winslet an Oscar already? Jesus. Her portrayal of April Wheeler is at once desperate, hopeful, frenetic and profoundly sad. Every line she delivers is pitch perfect and she broke my heart many times in this film. DiCaprio brings as much as he can to his role and it is captivating to watch these two extraordinary actors in a room together, but Winslet truly carries the emotional weight of this movie through her character. Granted I haven’t seen the other nominees yet, but if she doesn’t get the Oscar I’m gonna have a shit fit.
Okay. See this movie. It is soul-crushing at times, and maybe, like many others, you feel suburban disillusionment isn’t that interesting, but see it anyway. See it with someone else, because this movie can lead to great discussions. See it for Kate Winslet. And see it so you may better understand those two old people at the end of your street who once had dreams as rich as ours.
Great Moment: Leo looks hopefully up from the shifting sees of fedoras in downtown New York.