Release Date: December 26, 2008
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Baker, Michael Shannon, Dylan Baker
By Sean Chavel
The big question is whether Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are believable products of the 1950s, and the answer is yes. Not only are they believable as time capsule specimens, they are an inflammatory and insurgent pair in "Revolutionary Road" out to break the Baby Boomer Generation conformist mode and write their own rules. But will the rest of the world stifle their notion on how to be human?
Based on the infinitely acclaimed 1961 Richard Yates novel, the film boards onto Frank and April Wheeler’s torpid marriage and how they play to escape the usual traps and still keep love intact. Frank is a corporate drone who takes the commuter train to work like all the other stiffs. April is a failed actress whom in the opening scenes cowers in self-disgust at her own stage performance. Pretty life on the pedicured lawns of suburbia is not as sweet and easy as it looks. The director of “Revolutionary” is Sam Mendes who brought an equal feeling of suburban malaise to his 1999 Oscar winner “American Beauty.” These two films belong in the same pod.
Every argument between Frank and April operates in the same way. Something uncomfortable is brought up by Frank and then April doesn’t want to talk about it. Frank skewers deeper and then April counters with an emasculating put-down on her own husband. Both of them raise their voices. Higher and higher, till they are shouting at each other. Then chasing one another through rooms, or through the backyards brush of their neighborhood while continuing to spear each other with loathsome remarks. As the first squabble between the two braced the screen, I was reminded of the domestic fights of early Martin Scorsese films like “New York New York” and “Raging Bull.” The firestorms between DiCaprio and Winslet is that powerful.
Equally bored by each of their conditioned '50s roles, Frank searches for ways to liven up his work tedium and April searches for ways to break her homemaker routine. It’s easiest for Frank, as he spots a naïve young secretary from the office that he can seduce and uses the kind of quasi-executive language to get the young girl to hang on his words and promises. Not so easy for April, who can scan and scan for new ideas but ultimately has to tend to her children. And a third one might be on the way.
Both of them propose to escape the American blandness, as they will sell the house and put together a six-month savings salary to pack up and move to Paris – embarking on a brand new lifestyle where the world is more exciting and the people more real. Not be amongst cookie-cutter middle-class functionaries. Friends and colleagues have an impossible time accepting the Wheeler’s planned exodus. As a result, Frank and April face new social challenges before they will depart in the Fall.
“Revolutionary Road” is about the social pressures a rebellious couple faces at a time when a majority of peers are incapable of thinking outside the box. Kathy Bates (“About Schmidt”), Michael Shannon (“Bug”), Dylan Baker (“Happiness”) and Kathryn Hahn (“The Last Mimzy”) are among the film’s stellar list of supporting players. The flying colors belong though to Kate Winslet in a shattering and heartbreaking performance as the put upon housewife who refuses to be compromised by her husband or by society’s mores.