Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Revolutionary Road: Grade B

Revolutionary Road (2009)
Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio. Director Sam Mendes.

Winslet was nominated for best actress in this film and won best actress for her much less compelling (although naked) performance in The Reader. This is by far her better work. DiCaprio also delivers outstanding acting and the two of them raise this mediocre screenplay far above average. Imagine Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf meets The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. DiCaprio is some kind of cubicle worker in 1955 New York city (did they have cubicles then?) and Winslet is the suburban housewife in Connecticut. Despite being young newlyweds at the bottom of the food chain, their house is a magnificent, two-story, 5,000 sq. ft Colonial outfitted for a prince, but never mind that, because real estate agent Kathy Bates calls it a “charming little cottage,” so there you go! We never do understand what DiCaprio does for a living but he hates the job, has martinis for lunch we see the affair with the secretary coming from a mile away. We don’t know what Winslet does all day either. She acts in a dreary community theater, but her two young children don’t eat, read, go to school, play ball or even talk to her, so that must leave her a lot of free time. Yet she feels suffocated in a pre-Betty Friedan sort of way and yearns for she-knows-not-what, but it would definitely be in Paris. Instead of that, DiCaprio takes the big promotion at work, so they fight. Dishes are thrown, chairs are smashed, epithets are hurled. Events ensue. The ending is not happy.

The screenplay is mundane and predictable. The 1950’s are caricatured as strict, suffocating conformity, and some of that was true, but I remember those times and there was plenty of diversity. After the war (WWII), people were extremely eager to have stability, conformity, predictability, respectability and above all, steady income. It was not oppression, it was opportunity. For DiCaprio and Winslet to be existentially tormented, they would have to come from a very non-typical background, but we know nothing about their history, social class, education, parents, military service, nothing at all. We don’t know why they feel trapped by circumstance. They are mere stereotypes.

Recreation of the 1950’s is pretty good, although with anachronisms, and over-use of the same Buick. This could have been a killer movie if it had been set in modern times, because then the writers could not have relied on 1950’s stereotypes and would have had to come up with some real character motivation and dig into some genuine existential issues. Still, it is worth watching for the good acting.

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