Tue January 20, 2009
An unhappy movie
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio):
"You are an empty, empty, hollow shell of a woman. I mean, what the hell are you doing in my house if you hate me so much? Why the hell are you married to me? What the hell are you doing carrying my child? I mean, why didn't you just get rid of it when you had the chance? Because listen to me, listen to me, I got news for you - I wish to God that you had!"
Nothing "revolutionary" about Revolutionary Road, a period piece about a '50's couple in decline after moving to the burbs. I can confirm the creatively deadening effect of moving from city to country, even at a time when the new American Dream demanded lawns, garages, flower beds, and conventional neighbors. Director Sam Mendes gets it right.
Leo DiCaprio's Frank Wheeler and Kate Winslet's April Wheeler dream the dream and act on it in 1955, he with a business sales job and she staying home with the two kids. Her epiphany that they should move to Paris eventually persuades him they are living a "hopeless" and "empty" suburban idyll. All this is the usual slam of the vapid 50's, yet Mendes brings his especially trenchant appreciation of America to the screen as he did in American Beauty, only here it is more realistic and less romantic.
Mendes had the memorable red roses image in American beauty; he does it again with shots of Frank in his fedora going to work with all the other drones in fedoras. Mendes is helped by fine performances from his leads, whose universe has expanded considerably since they were on the deck of the Titanic.
Most of all is the poignancy of today's mortgage crisis, in which the seeds are sown through the discontent of a couple considering themselves not unlike the others but falling into the wishes that lead to frustration and loss. Such is the stuff of an unhappy movie about a happier time that I remember but young artists could never know.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time and Cinema Classics shows, which can be heard streaming at http://publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/ppr/index.shtml and on demand anytime at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/arts.artsmain Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com