I’m guessing this is what life was like with Ward and June Cleaver after they closed the doors and turned off the cameras. And damn is it ugly. In Sam Mendes’ new film ‘Revolutionary Road’ we are privileged to observe life in mid 1950’s America which is similar to those images we saw from Cleavers on that TV show back in the day, with the exception being that everything is in full blown Technicolor. Wonderful little houses standing on beautiful manicured lawns where the men all wear gray suits and the women sport bright colored dresses. The children are cute and precocious, the neighbors are nosy and also not unlike the world of the Cleavers, people of color simply do not exist. And after spending a couple of hours with Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his wife April (Kate Winslet), people of color should be thankful that this is a world that they have been excluded from.
He sees her across at a party across a smoky room. They talk, they dance and the next thing we know they’re married with a couple of kids living in the suburbs of Connecticut and are about as miserable as two people can be. Welcome to the lives of Frank and April Wheeler folks. Frank works at some firm performing some job that he hates, that he’s not very good at and as he tells a secretary from the pool that he is diddling, he’s ending up just like his old man who worked and died for this same company, which he hoped and prayed would never happen.
Sitting across the table from Frank is his wife April. April had dreamed of being actress until life stepped in, though she still gives it a shot in the local theater groups on occasion, but unfortunately the results of these attempts at ‘theater’ are less than stellar. While Frank spends his days doing his job poorly and screwing secretaries, April spends her days caring for her two young children, putting up with her nosy neighbor Mrs. Givens (Kathy Bates), hating her husbands very existence and over all being one of the more miserable people that you’re ever going to have the misfortune of making the acquaintance of.
Things seem to get better for couple when April gets the brilliant idea that the pair should just pack up the kids and move to Paris. She can get a job where they overpay for secretarial talent and Frank can finally find out who the hell he is. Though hesitant at first, Frank okays the plan for all go ahead which seems to revitalize the passion in our suburban couples extremely rocky relationship, but alas situations occur which renders this newfound joy inert. You know that life in general is messed up when the only person making any sense is your nosy neighbor’s institutionalized adult son (Michael Shannon). But life still goes on, just as it has before, and believe me when I tell you that this isn’t a good thing for anyone.
Probably the only thing I personally could relate to while watching ‘Revolutionary Road’ is when the character of Frank, in yet another fit of frustration with his wife yells out ‘F**K YOU APRIL!’ You see it just so happens that my wife is also named April and it is quite possible that I may have uttered those very words on an occasion or two. Just warmed my heart to hear my words coming out of the mouth of Leonardo Dicaprio. Other than that there was really nothing for me in this movie.
Now don’t mistake for a moment that ‘Revolutionary Road’ was anything other than a virtually perfect production. If you’ve seen any of the movies of director Sam Mendes then you are probably familiar with his style, which is evident here in a movie that is squarely character based and moves at a deliberately methodical pace to give these characters room to move. Of course it isn’t necessary for me to inform anyone on what a great actress that Kate Winslet is, and that to the surprise of no one she’s stellar in this film with her portrayal of the wife that life is in the process passing her by. Nor do we need to laud praise upon Leonardo DiCaprio whose main crime remains the fact he seems incapable of aging.
The dialog ripped from the novel by Richard Yates and reformed for the screen Justin Haythe was crisp and you have to love the use of those 1950’s terms like ‘swell’ and ‘crackerjack’. The clothes, the cars, the recreation of the suburban lifestyle, the fact people smoked every freaking where and the overall presentation, such as watching pregnant women who drank in between cigarette drags were all flawless.
But it was all so uninvolving, at least to me. Despite the wonderful look of the production, everything was so sterile and empty. Observing the Wheelers was interesting enough, but considering that neither character was all that likable, not even a little bit, we’re basically stuck just watching them be assholes to each other. So when something bad happens to one of them or something good happens, you don’t really care since you’re almost completely emotionally detached from the pair and you just watch. The crazy son played by Michael Shannon was a compelling character, and when he was on the screen the film was at its best, but I wonder why he was actually in the movie, aside to point out insight on why our characters are so screwed up and from the fact he was in the book I suppose. I mean what self respecting 1950’s housewife whose life revolves around her projected self image blatantly displays her obviously insane son for all the world to see how nutty the dude is?
I’m sure when they pass those year end awards that these people covet that ‘Revolutionary Road’ will gets it share accolades because it is a fine example of some highly skilled filmmaking, but as a movie and a story it’s simply one that just didn’t move me all that much.