'Road' a realistic look at '50s
|||Shannon's brilliant turn adds depth, insight to film|
By Roger Moore
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
By Roger Moore
Did we begin questioning "The American Dream" with Richard Yates' acclaimed 1961 novel, "Revolutionary Road"? Or was he reporting something that began in the unquestioning 1950s?
Call us "selfish" or "childish," but the marriage with two children, house in the suburbs, Oldsmobile in the driveway, everything and everyone buttoned down ... you didn't have to be a beatnik to see that as suffocating.
Yates' novel becomes a polished, perfectly cast film of dreams deferred and pent-up angst unleashed in the hands of Sam Mendes and his stars, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. We knew years before TV's "Mad Men" that the '50s weren't as conservative and sedate as history once treated them. But for all the dated clothes and vintage cars, "Revolutionary Road" feels less like the period piece Mad Men plainly is. The "dream" trap feels as relevant now as it did when Yates' novel was heralding the birth of the '60s.
Frank (DiCaprio) works in an office in the city at a job he hates but endures because he and perfect-wife April (Winslet) have two children and a house. He puts the half-hearted moves on secretaries, drinks at lunch and doesn't take the job the least bit seriously. But he's turned 30. He has responsibilities.
April, like Frank, dismisses their neighbors and colleagues as "those people" with their boring, bourgeois lives. But she wonders what happened to the curious free spirit she met at a Manhattan party and married seven years ago. She's really upset at what has become of her. Frank can see it in the once-aspiring actress's eyes as she takes a curtain call for a community theater disaster she's just starred in — fear, grief, regret.
"I saw a whole other future," she says. "I can't stop seeing it."
They fight the way couples fight, covering familiar ground. And then April hits on a solution to save their stifled souls. But hope, as we all know, can be the cruelest trap of all.
Mendes ("American Beauty") has filmed this as an Oscar showcase for his wife, the finest actress of her generation. And Winslet doesn't disappoint.
DiCaprio has held on to his boyish charm, but his acting still seems mannered — too many gestures, too much working the eyebrows.
Kathy Bates is marvelous as the Realtor who wants to stay friends, if only to give her volcanic son (Michael Shannon, brilliant) a hip couple to chat with on his furloughs from the mental hospital. He's had a breakdown, but sometimes it takes a madman to see the obvious. The "perfect couple" is doomed.
Mendes has made a troubling film that wrestles with big themes and touchy subjects, even if it is set in an overly familiar milieu. And he's given his wife the perfect role for her range, her empathy and her beauty. If Winslet doesn't win the Oscar for this, Meryl Streep should give her heir apparent one of hers. She's earned it.