Who's Afraid of the 1950s?
Lost dreams and marital stress contribute to the misery of a young couple in Revolutionary Road. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio co-star here as the husband and wife struggling to survive suburbia during the 1950s. Having gone through similar experiences in that same buttoned-down era, I found the film quite accurate in terms of the way people dressed, decorated their houses, wore their hair and so forth -- but overly melodramatic in how they related to each other.
Still, the story of Frank and April Wheeler is a serious one, so perhaps their almost continuous arguing and shouting serves to emphasize that point. However, I couldn’t help thinking about Who’s Afraid of Viginia Woolfe? -- a classic 1966 film with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton -- during most of these scenes. And that distracted me from what was happening on screen, which is never a good sign. Although Winslet and DiCaprio deliver brilliant performances, even on a par with those of Taylor and Burton, they also portray characters who are not easy to care about, and that’s another drawback for this movie. Fortunately, Winslet and DiCaprio (also co-stars in Titanic), who illustrate what the term "acting up a storm" means, provide the reason to see this film. When their characters hurl ferocious insults at each other, the intensity of their feelings appears chillingly real.
What happened to April and Frank’s marriage? They seem very much in love at the beginning of their relationship, which starts out with being drawn together by romantic looks “across a crowded room.” Revolutionary Road, directed by Sam Mendes and based on a 1962 novel by Richard Yates, blames it on the 1950s and life in the suburbs. A move from New York City to a house on Revolutionary Road in the Connecticut suburbs serves as the first step of Frank and April’s descent into despair.
Frank must commute to his job, leaving April at home to deal with their children, loneliness and boredom. April’s dreams of becoming an actress no longer sustain her, and she finally starts pleading with Frank to move the entire family to Paris, hoping doing something this drastic will change things. Sadly, how those “Paris plans” open up new problems between these two unhappy individuals receives too much attention in the film and begins to drag it down more than necessary.
Can this marriage be saved? A former mental patient, played impressively by Oscar nominee Michael Shannon, gives them surprisingly wise advice. But by the time we know the answer to that question, we’ve run out of empathy for April and Frank. Although jolted by the movie’s shocking ending, we have trouble blaming the 50s or suburbia. Lack of respect, fidelity and compassion in a marriage can make both partners miserable, no matter when or where they live.
(Released by Paramount Vantage and rated “R” for language and some sexual content/nudity.)
For more information about Revolutionary Road, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.