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Overall Rating

Awesome: 32.56%
Worth A Look: 9.3%
Just Average48.84%
Pretty Crappy: 9.3%
Sucks: 0%

4 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Revolutionary Road
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Alas, The Wheelers Don't Match The Drapers"
3 stars

If you were to create a machine that could instantly assemble a movie designed solely to earn a ton of Oscar nominations, the end result would probably look a lot like “Revolutionary Road,” the new film from director Sam Mendes After all, it is a high-toned drama with a serious literary pedigree (it is based on the acclaimed 1961 novel by Richard Yates), it has been brought to the screen by a highly regarded filmmaker and it reunites two of the most gifted and charismatic actors working together for the first time since their previous on-screen teaming 11 years earlier went on to sweep the Oscars and become the most popular film ever made. The trouble is that for the most part, it feels as if it was made by a machine--all of the elements have been impeccably assembled but it lacks the grubbiness and heat of real life that it so desperately needs. The end result is a beautiful-looking but essentially lifeless work that would seem more at home on a mantelpiece than on a movie screen.

Set during the 1950s, that all-purpose symbol for soul-crushing repression and angst, the film follows the bitter and depressed lives of Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet). When we get our initial glimpse of them, they are meeting for the first time at a party and immediately sparking with each other because of their shared desire to break away from an ordinary humdrum suburban existence and do something special and meaningful--April wants to be an actress while Frank. . .well, he is a little vague about the specifics of his dreams. When we pick up with them a few years later, they have found themselves firmly entrenched in the very existence that they hoped to avoid. They reside in a nice house in a well-manicured Connecticut suburb with a pair of well-scrubbed children and live out lives that find Frank trudging out every day to an boring and vaguely defined office job that is made tolerable only by three-martini lunches and a fling with the new cutie in the steno pool (Zoe Kazan) while April stays at home to look after the house and kids while silently reflecting on an acting “career” that never panned out. In other words, they are outwardly happy and content but seething with bitterness and regret on the inside. Realizing this, April offers up a suggestion to Frank that she believes will finally break them out of their rut and allow them to become the people that they wanted to be--they will move from Connecticut to Paris where April will work as a translator at the American Embassy while Frank can sit around and figure out what he really wants to do with his life.

It sounds crazy at first but eventually, Frank warms up to the idea and they plan to take leave in a few months time. They even take an enormous amount of pleasure of informing their friends, colleagues and neighbors just to see how shocked they are by the idea that anyone could possibly believe that they would willingly throw away a life of upper-middle-class comfort for something as strange and foreign as a new life in Paris. And yet, even these grandiose plans are unable to completely fill up the emptiness of their lives, which becomes evident when neighbor Helen Givings (Kathy Bates) brings her son (Michael Shannon) over for a couple of visits after he is released from a mental institution and he winds up being one of those straight-talking truth-tellers who delights in tearing away their facades and bringing their real feelings to the forefront. Eventually, a couple of serious obstacles arise to put the Paris trip in jeopardy--Frank is offered a big promotion at work (something to do with these new-fangled computers that are becoming all the rage) that will presumably increase his ennui but will definitely increase his paycheck while April discovers that she is pregnant. Without going into too much detail, I will only note that one of them is far more willing to make the sacrifice needed to keep their plans in motion and this sets off a chain of events that inevitably leads to misery for pretty much everyone.

In other words, “Revolutionary Road” is another one of those movies showing how beneath the most beautifully designed suburban sprawl is an inescapable wellspring of misery, bitterness and angst that will inevitably ensnare and consume virtually anyone who stumbles into its grip--a genre so prevalent that even though this is only Sam Mendes’ fourth feature film, it is his second take on the subject following his 1999 debut “American Beauty.” However, in order to fully grasp the sadness of the lives of Frank and April as they succumb to the miseries of their existences, we need to have some strong idea of the idealistic people that they once were before seeing what they would eventually become. Mysteriously, “Revolutionary Road” fails to do this--once we get past their introductory meeting, we are immediately plunged into their world of seething discontent without ever getting an idea of how they got there in the first place. Of course, there is just enough backstory remaining to suggest to us that it is April who is the part of the couple that has the kind of spirit that could indeed be considered revolutionary while Frank is the passive type who essentially prefers to conform than to stand out on his own. The problem with that, however, is that it never becomes clear why these two clearly mismatched people would have ever decided to get married in the first place or why April would put more energy into helping her husband achieve his vaguely defined dreams instead of pursuing her own vaguely defined dreams. If I had to guess, I would suspect that these questions were most likely answered in Yates’ original novel and that in the process of adapting it, screenwriter Justin Haythe either decided to simply eliminate them in order to get the script down to a manageable length or did a substandard job of translating these themes and ideas from the page to the screen.

It is a testament to Mendes’ gifts as a filmmaker, I suppose, that most viewers won’t even notice or recognize these flaws while they are watching “Revolutionary Road” for the first time because they will be too distracted by its physical splendor--production designer Kristi Zea and cinematographer do brilliant jobs of quietly and effectively evoking the period--and the admittedly excellent central performances from DiCaprio (who is surprisingly strong as Frank, even though there are times when he simply looks too young for the part) and Winslet (whose performance here is as strong and sure as anything that she has done in her already extraordinary career). However, once you start reflecting on the film, either in the theater as it is unfolding or afterwards in the parking lot, you may find yourself slowly beginning to realize just how shallow and one-note a lot of it really is. At this time, it may begin to dawn on you just how contrived the story is at times (notice how the Wheeler children conveniently disappear from view in much the same way that guard dogs tend to mysteriously vanish in horror films) and just how condescendingly nearly all of the characters other than Frank and April are depicted--with people this dull and boorish surrounding them, you could hardly blame anyone from wanting to leave them in the dust. You may also notice just how archly literary and symbolic the proceedings get in order to remind us of just how important the film we are watching really is--it may sound like a petty thing but just the fact that the street that the Wheelers live on is actually called Revolutionary Road--not the most likely name for a street in a Connecticut suburb--set my teeth on edge every time it was mentioned. Even the most-vaunted element of the film, Michael Shannon’s performance as the truth-telling mental patient, wears thin after a while--while his first appearance contains enough electricity and dark humor to give the proceedings a much-need jolt, his unerring ability to expose every single hidden misery of the other characters eventually becomes too contrived to be realistic (after being mortified by his behavior during his first visit with the Wheelers, why would his mother bring him around a second, other than the fact that he is needed to bring things to a head again?)and too overplayed to be compelling.

“Revolutionary Road” is a serious and ambitious film that has been made at a time when such things are in short supply and for that reason alone, I suppose that Mendes and company should be commended for getting such a relatively uncompromising tale made in the first place. And yet, while I can intellectually admire it for those reasons, I cannot recommend it because the presentation is devoid of energy that it feels as sterile and airless as the suburban existence that it spends so much time condemning and the fact that the wonderful TV show “Mad Men” effortlessly tackles many of the same themes and ideas on a weekly basis doesn’t help matters much either. In the end, all that we are left with are a lot of good intentions and a couple of very good performances in the service of a story whose ultimate message, to paraphrase a line from a much better movie, seems to boil down to the notion that when Kate Winslet asks you if you want to go to Paris, you say “YES!”

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17387&reviewer=389
originally posted: 01/02/09 00:00:00
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User Comments

10/08/20 Ed Riddick Great cast with screenplay that sometimes seems contrived. Overall good, not great. 4 stars
10/16/18 Jamie Brutal portrayal of the soullessness of suburbia; simply amazing in its honesty&truth. 5 stars
10/29/16 morris campbell one of the most haunting portraits of unhappiness ever 4 stars
5/26/16 Anne one of the very best films I have ever seeen 5 stars
3/14/11 doremimi Heartwrenching story with some of the most amazing acting I've ever seen 5 stars
5/31/10 User Name It has "Oscar bait" written all over it with a magic marker. 3 stars
12/31/09 RLan a great story about suburban angst. Kate Winslet is excellent! 4 stars
9/11/09 BTC A wonderful, perfectly-acted, devastating movie. I wish Kate had won for this instead! 5 stars
6/05/09 Nickless Nick Excellent interpretation of the book. 5 stars
5/16/09 secretary bosom Worthy themes and acting, emptyness of life but staidly made 3 stars
3/17/09 jim loved it, one of year's best, haunting as hell, can't stop thinking about it.michaelshannon 5 stars
2/26/09 rose Absolutely engaging, fntastic drama with wonderful acting 5 stars
2/16/09 Louise Good fifties look and feel to this film, with powerful acting - shocking at times 5 stars
2/02/09 aliceinwonderland Because of the good acting: worht a look, otherwise: average 4 stars
1/22/09 Jack Dharma Writing short of Virginia Wolfe, acting No Taylor / Burton 2 stars
1/03/09 Piz actor driven piece that's worthy of a look for curiosity, visual appeal, and drama 3 stars
12/29/08 Francesca Cecil Melodrama with a touch of Durang-like absurdity without the humor 2 stars
12/29/08 movie dude Boredom from start to the end. A waste of time and talent. 2 stars
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  26-Dec-2008 (R)
  DVD: 02-Jun-2009


  DVD: 02-Jun-2009

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