Friday, January 23, 2009

Revolutionary Road

I remember when Titanic came out. I was in middle school and I wasn’t allowed to see it. My friends had all gone to the theater multiple times to watch Kate (Kate Winslet) and Leo (Leondardo DiCaprio) express their devotion to one another. I quickly heard the details of key scenes so that I could pretend I knew what everyone was talking about. In middle school image is everything. Once I finally was allowed to watch the movie from the comfort of our living room – so that my parents could sensor two specific scenes – I didn’t really get what the fuss was all about. Kate and Leo, eh.

Half the draw for any movie is the actors who star in the piece, but when you get two actors together who have had onscreen chemistry prior, you’re guaranteed box office gold. Google Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, or even Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey – just to name a few – and you’ll understand what I’m getting at. Putting key actors together may draw a big crowd and be a box office success but that doesn’t mean it’s a good movie.

If you are a die hard fan of the Kate and Leo concept you will love Revolutionary Road. The Titanic lovebirds are back together in all their glory. Their fantasy sea-legged love story has matured and grown and now they are forced to deal with reality of everyday life, with volatile results for two people who want to be anything but ordinary.

I appreciate what this story is trying to depict. While I did not major in sociology and study the 1960’s and the societal “cookie-cutter” pressures that were forced on the American people, I have heard enough from my family’s personal history, read accounts, and seen enough depictions of the suburban family to know that life wasn’t always as “peachy” as it appeared. The movie resonates with viewers today because those same pressures are still present. The “American Dream” hasn’t died and as American’s we’re taught that we can and should be more than what we are and what our parents were. We are also anything but ordinary.

Revolutionary Road fails when it assumes every viewer has a love affair with Kate and Leo. It relies on hype and the previews (literally) to establish the wonderfully ideal love that Frank (DiCaprio) and April (Winslet) Wheeler are supposed to share. Scenes from the preview are missing from the film itself and had I not seen the clip prior to the film I would be left wondering even more about this couple’s relationship. Sam Mendes (the director) doesn’t give us enough information about the happy days of Frank and April before their relationship goes south. The audience isn’t given enough time to become invested in the positives of the Wheeler’s relationship to care about their difficulties.

DiCaprio’s performance also leaves me wanting more and questioning the choice of actor for this complex role. I applaud DiCaprio’s efforts, but he gets in his own way. His natural “baby face” will allow him many years of future work in the film industry, but it hinders his task to play a 40 year old husband and father. It’s like watching a child dress up in his father’s clothing and play house. He tries so hard and the more effort put into it the more it’s obvious. Half of the time he comes across as fake – which I think may be deliberate in order to show the superficial role he is supposed to play in this 1960’s perfect world – and the other half of the time he is yelling so hard that veins are about to explode from his face. He’s hot and cold in seconds flat.

The best performance in Revolutionary Road is by Michael Shannon who plays John Givings, the committed son of a neighborhood woman who has two scenes in the entire film. He is the voice of reason and truth. In some ways he is the comic relief, but he inserts himself so honestly and awkwardly into the lives of Frank and April that his appearance represents the best and worst of their relationship. Shannon earned a Supporting Actor Academy nomination for this role that he deserves to win – although Heath Ledger will probably take it for his role in The Dark Knight.

Revolutionary Road is worth seeing. It’s not an easy movie to watch. There is yelling and screaming, passionate lovemaking, blood and violence, rage and bitterness, love and devotion, betrayal and deceit, morality and immorality, selfishness and self-sacrifice, and somewhere there is a story that resonates on some level with each and every viewer. Could it have been told better? Yes, but for the sake of seeing the forest instead of the trees, watch this film, but just be forewarned.

1 comment:

Jamie said...

I concur about not knowing the characters well enough beforehand to actually care about how crapy their lives were at the end.

I enjoyed watching this film mostly because it gave me something to "put a face to" (in theory) from everything I learned last year about the 1950s American family and hard ideals to live up to.

I loved Alice's line when she said "who made up these rules" (or something like that). So true.