By Mr Slate Honey
I’ve been squandering money on watching big budget films recently. My stint of Hollywood-mania included going to the movies five nights in a row over the holidays. Last night, I capped the marathon off with a last, belated stint and went to see REVOLUTIONARY ROAD—the last flick on my Holiday list.
I went to the early bird evening show with a pack of Kleenex, hoping for a dose of dysfunction that would provide catharsis. I didn’t have too many expectations but having seen THE READER (also starring Kate Winslet and which I will get to in my Part 2), I was ready for some more blonde-haired drama.
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD should be re-titled YOUR HUSBAND IS A JERK BUT YOU CAN’T DIVORCE HIM. The film is a montage of cliché scenarios that take a pre-womyn’s lib setting—the suburbs outside New York in the 1950s—as fodder for a formulaic tragic-comedy. The film begins by intercutting flashbacks of April and Frank falling in love at a party and flashes forward to a roadside fight between the now married couple after April’s embarrassing performance in a small-town play. Hence, our first piece of bait in this 2nd wave feminism feature-length promo: April gave up her acting career to be a housewife to a man with a mindless office job. So the drama unravels— unfotumately not providing catharsis so much as earaches. There is a lot of yelling in this film, Leo and Kate often bearing their teeth and getting red in the face, but it’s not always clear whether it’s worth the exhaustion.
Like a TV drama, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD relies too much on an assumption that the audience is going to be automatically sympathetic to this couple. As a result, the film does not offer enough “getting to know you” time with Frank and April. We know things were different before, (supposedly happier, exciting) but we don’t know the details. We are told that this couple was “different”—a word that gets used a lot in the film to set the duo apart from less attractive looking neighbor couples—but the film left me wondering, how different could they have been? After a slight glimmer of hope, a possible relocation of the distressed family to Europe, we watch April and Frank break down again and further unravel. Frank is a philanderer, pushy and too talkative… and pro-life. April looks gorgeous without lipstick and alternates between nervous breakdown and well-composed housewife before her tragic end.
Sam Mendes’ direction is very palpable, maybe too much so, in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. To create the 1950s “appearance is everything” vibe, Mendes directs everyone to be so stiff the actors seem as starched as their impeccably perfect costumes. The expected musical score cues make everything too obvious and dialogue is cookie-cutter, delivered with perfectly polite intonation. Winslet and DiCaprio carry too much of the perfect language skills into the breakdown scenes, taking away some potential for real-like dysfunction. With a too literal (and frankly weak) script, Mendes’ retro-AMERICAN BEAUTY prologue ends up feeling all around empty. It lacks irony and subtlety. At least in AMERICAN BEAUTY, we had a quirky aesthetic rife in the portrait of a modern day nuclear family gone dysfunctional. There was humour (ah, Kevin Spacey and your monotone delivery) and some heavy quiet moments for seriousness.
Unfortunately, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD draws too ambiguous a line between the characters’ social posturing and their real selves. There is a bit of humour in a minor character, a man fresh out of the looney bin, who becomes a regular dinner guest. He vocalizes inner dialogue at proper sit-down dinners, sparking tense scenes with provocations intended to catch fire. His provocations are funny to watch but he is too obvious a device. His presence seems surreal, and for this film that stays well within block-buster formulas, he is out of place. Well, needless to say, I walked out of the theatre disappointed. (And $12.50 short!) I didn’t even get to use my Kleenex because frankly, I couldn’t connect to this particular sob story.