Film: Revolutionary Road
Director: Sam Mendes
Producers: Sam Mendes,
Bobby Cohen, John Hart,
Writer: Justin Haythe
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet
Runtime: 119 minutes
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This quote from Tolstoy is the perfect thesis when it comes to explaining “Revolutionary Road,” the new film from Sam Mendes. While “Road” manages to give great performances and a script with interesting characters, its subject matter drags the film down.
Meet Frank (DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Winslet), the seemingly perfect couple. They have two beautiful kids, a nice home in a safe neighborhood and good friends. But all is not perfect on Revolutionary Road. Underneath their fa’e1ade of happiness lies complete and utter dissatisfaction. April lives a life of domestic servitude, while Frank works in the city at a job he hates. Desperate to break away from their life of misery and save their marriage, the Wheelers hatch a plan to move to Paris. Though their friends are less than thrilled by the plan, the Wheelers feel they can be more than just an ordinary couple living an average life. But breaking away from the norm is not as easy they think, and for trying to escape they will pay a price.
The performances are what make this film great. While everyone is applauding Winslet’s performance in “The Reader,” this is the film she should have won an Oscar for. Once again, Winslet shows us her range in acting. DiCaprio gives one of his best performances to date and was snubbed on a giant level when the academy didn’t recognize his performance. The scenes that involve glass-shattering and furniture-breaking arguments are some of the most draining scenes in the film and are comparable to “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Giving both of the leads a run for their money is mental patient John Givings (Michael Shannon), the middle-aged son of the family who lives down the street. Shannon provides the sole voice of reason in this film. Even through his perceived mental instability, or perhaps because of it, he can see the lives Frank and April have are not what they truly want and is not shy in expressing his opinion.
While the premise can be viewed as being a bit dated, which is only natural since “Road” is based on a book from the early ’60s, the script does provide detailed moments of character development that are done well. Frank is the kind of man that feels the need to sleep with other women, if only to hear their praise for him. While we know April is completely desperate for another life, she also comes across as a little crazy in her coldness and constant fighting. It must be said, though, that she is indeed a master of manipulation.
“You’re the most beautiful and wonderful thing in the world. You’re a man,” April tells Frank, feigning inferiority.
There’s no doubting the power Sam Mendes can wield as a director. “American Beauty” is a shining example of this. With this film, though, Mendes seemed to want to recreate not only the success of “Beauty,” but the storyline as well. Even the score is remarkably similar to that of “Beauty.” For all intents and purposes, “Road” may as well be called “American Beauty 2: The ’50s.” But instead of the Wheelers being ordinary in a world where being different is what matters, “Road” uses a different time setting to show that being average is what’s important, and it’s this concept the Wheelers spend the majority of the film fighting about. Both films could be shown as a double feature to prove the point that no matter the decade, people hate their lives.
Overall, we’ve seen this film before, and we’ve seen it done slightly better. The performances are great, the script is nuanced, but it ultimately feels like a string of fight scenes crowned with an ending that not a lot of people will be surprised by.