Film review by: Witney Seibold
It’s long ago been revealed that the pastoral idyll of 1950s white suburbia was largely a sham. These days, many people use the 1950s less as a shorthand for the power of the American Dream, and more as a shorthand for hidden angst and repression of passion. Sam Mendes’ film “Revolutionary Road” doesn’t necessarily blow the lid off of 1950s idealism, but it’s well done enough to tear your heart out anyway.
Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his pretty wife April (Kate Winslet) have a gorgeous house and two pretty children on the pastoral Revolutionary Road. They also hate each other. It’s not so much because she hates being a homemaker, which she does, and it’s not so much because he’s having a casual affair with a cute secretary (Zoe Kazan) down at his office, which he is, but because of a deep-seated mismatch that they have both chosen to ignore for years. They met at a party and started dating, and before you knew it, they were married. Why? Because that’s just what you do when you’re dating someone, isn’t it? Settle down and get married? Never mind that these two people are fundamentally incompatible, and lack the intelligence and imagination to escape their rut.
Or do they? April suggests on Frank’s birthday that they sell their house and move to Paris. Why? Just because. They need something new. Clearly they are in a rut. When they tell each new person about this new plan of theirs, they are greeted with mounting skepticism. Their chipper neighbors the Campbells (Kathryn Hahn, David Harbour) don’t seem to understand, Frank’s co-workers (including a dandyish Dylan Baker) seem a little baffled, and especially confounded is Helen (Kathy Bates), the lady realtor who set them up with such a good deal on Revolutionary Road. The only person who seems to be o.k. with the Wheelers’ move is Helen’s son John (Michael Shannon, excellent), who has spent much of the last few years in a metal hospital, and who seems to be afflicted with the kind of madness that allows him to speak the truth. He is able to see that the couple is in a rut, and that they need to move immediately. He blurts out unpleasant things, and does not need to apologize for them. He is the voice of reason in the film.
Soon, however, Frank is offered a promotion, and April gets pregnant. She doesn’t want to be pregnant, as it’ll put a damper on the big movie. He doesn’t seem to torn up about it, and actually seems pleased that he is offered a business opportunity even though he hates his job. It’s not long before April and Frank are screaming at one another, and reveling that they really have no real affection for one another. It’s also soon reveled that they still don’t have the imagination to escape their rut after all. Here is a story about a doomed couple who are forced to remain together out of social norms, damning comfort, and a general lack of imagination. It’s a powerful story.
By the end, there has been death and suffering. There have been questions of ideals, and of typical American masculinity and femininity. There have been lies of mounting dishonesty. There has been a deep, deep sense of dissatisfaction. The film’s final resolute act is not a cry for help or a blast of hope, but a further step down in the fall from grace. It’s a damning film, and a very, very depressing one. But it’s brilliant.