Tuesday, June 30, 2009

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (now playing at home where you just blamed that fart on your dog again)

Revolutionary Road--from Richard Yates' 1961 novel-- could have been subtitled: "Lives of UNQUIET Desperation." What came into my head as I watched this bored young suburban couple from the fifties go at each other tooth and nail was a Mexican soap opera, where someone is pissed-off at someone else in every stinking scene. This movie isn't THAT over the top, but it gives you an idea of the predominant tone.

Leonardo DiCaprio is Frank Wheeler, and Kate Winslet is April, his wife. They're the perfect couple, or so their friends believe. But Frank dislikes his job, and April is chronically dissatisfied with...well, LIFE. Some of us are just never going to be content with the nice house with the white picket fence and the 2.3 kids running around in the yard--even though that was the ultimate dream back in the fifties. April feels that she's special--an aspiring actress--but when that doesn't go well, her disappointment is all consuming. So she adopts a new dream. She and Frank will move to Paris, where she'll work as some kind of secretary...or sumpthin.
It's half-baked pie in the sky, but she wins Frank over to the idea. April just wants to LIVE,
so practicality is not her strong suit.

Now, their friends believe that the Wheelers are whacked, but don't dare let on because this was the last decade we had where people were actually polite to one another. But the fire is back in the young couple's eyes as they look forward to their "liberation." Until things start looking up for Frank at work--a promotion--and the bird in the hand begins to look much better to him. Will this be the death of yet another of April's dreams? The pull of security. The pull of freedom. Something we've all struggled with at times.

DiCaprio and Winslet swing for the fences in their fighting scenes--two people in "love" who cross the line and go for the jugular--trying to inflict as much emotional abuse on each other as they can before their shouting match voices give out. Perhaps not since Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? have we witnessed an onscreen couple emit such raw emotion.

Kathy Bates has a turn as realtor Helen Givings-- and Michael Shannon is wickedly delightful as her mathematician son, John, who's on furlough from the mental institution where he's been receiving electric shock treatments. John is a loose cannon, and when he comes a calling, his blunt and prickly assessments of the Wheelers' relationship further stirs up the hornets nest that is their life together. Ironically, John seems to be the only character in Revolutionary Road who has the freedom to be who he wants to be. And I, for one, would love to be able to just rattle off whatever I damn well please and have it dismissed with a wave of the hand and a "Oh, He's not well!" Come to think of it...

Revolutionary Road is, above all, a film about dreams--and how it is often more important to be chasing a dream than to catch up with one. Lose your dreams and you may lose your mind...or worse.

When that happens, it's all over but the shouting.