- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Paramount Vantage
Reviewed by David Medsker
ere are your choices at the googoplex this holiday season (warning: potential spoilers to follow): a failed Nazi insurrection (“Valkyrie”), a family movie that ends with a dead dog (“Marley & Me”), a man plotting his own death to atone for his sins (“Seven Pounds”), a love story involving a man that ages in reverse (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), a laughably bad graphic novel adaptation (“The Spirit”), and “Revolutionary Road,” a mid-‘50s period piece about miserable suburbanites. Merry, fucking, Christmas.
But here’s the thing about “Revolutionary Road”: it’s remarkably well done. It’s suffocating and frustrating as all hell, but it’s supremely well acted, beautifully shot (Roger Deakins is the man), and uncomfortably relatable. It has no business hitting the theaters during the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, but then again, it’s not as if the movie doesn’t have company in that regard.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Frank Wheeler, who meets cute at a party with aspiring actress April (Kate Winslet). Flash-forward to their lives as a married couple with two kids; April’s doing bad local theater, and taking her frustrations out on Frank. Frank doesn’t particularly like his job either, so April hatches a plan for the family to move to Paris, where she will provide for the family and Frank can figure out what he enjoys doing. Life, however, continues to happen as they make these bold plans; Frank stumbles into a promotion, April gets pregnant, and each begins to wonder what it is their lives are missing, if anything.
When the couple has its first fight within minutes of the opening credits (before the title screen, in fact), “Revolutionary Road” looks as though it’s going to be the most insufferable movie ever made. Thankfully, it does not stay that way. In fact, a good chunk of the movie is rather upbeat, with a few unpleasant conversations – and questionable decisions – mixed in for flavor. By the movie’s third act, however, the gloves are off and the Wheelers are in full meltdown mode, but considering everything that’s happened up to that point, it’s strangely cathartic when the bomb finally drops. How does this affect the children, you ask? It’s unclear, since they disappear from the screen the minute things get ugly.
Leo and Kate, as you might imagine, are fabulous here. Winslet has the meatier role, since she is the catalyst for pretty much everything that happens, but let’s not repeat “Titanic” and underestimate DiCaprio’s importance in holding everything together. Dylan Baker offers some comic relief as the drunken lifer at Frank’s office, but the rest of the supporting cast are cogs in the machine, from Zoe Kazan’s office temptress to Kathy Bates’ nosy realtor. Michael Shannon has the plum role as Bates’ mentally unstable son John, but his part turns into subtext translator and walking cliché, the lunatic who happens to be the only sane person in the room.
It still has no business whatsoever being released at Christmastime, but “Revolutionary Road” is an exemplary piece of work. It may be easier to admire than it is to love (how do you love something that’s so loveless?), but there is no denying the skill and craft that went into making it, and you’ll definitely love your spouse/loved one a little more after seeing it. How about that: it’s a feel-good movie after all. The bleakest, saddest feel-good movie ever made.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Anyone wondering if Frank and April were as neglectful to their children as the movie made it seem will be happy to find the Wheeler kids alive and well in a few of the included deleted scenes, but most of the material is dedicated to fleshing out the relationship between Frank and April. Rounding out the bonus features is an audio commentary with director Sam Mendes and writer Justin Haythe, a standard making-of featurette (“Lives of Quiet Desperation”), and a biography on Richard Yates (“The Wages of Truth”), the author of the novel on which the film is based.