Revolutionary Road


I’m frequently too lazy for words, but very rarely am I lost for them. I promised Clara I would try, but I must warn you in advance that I’m unable to do justice to what I’ve seen tonight. That doesn’t indicate the quality of Revolutionary Road in any form. I’m not sure what qualities it has, in which direction. I suppose I can say that it’s well made and well acted.

Revolutionary Road is based on a book that I would classify as “literature”. With “literary” adaptations, you need star power to attract people; such was also the case with Kate Winslet’s Little Children.
It’s intriguing, yes? Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet together again, after ten years apart. What it is is proof positive of why so many romances end when the boy and girl have finally “got” each other. Revolutionary Road offers Frank and April Wheeler’s chance encounter at a party, then cuts directly to 1955, seven or eight odd years later, by which time the young lovers find it difficult to stand the sight of each other.
But hey, they’ve got children, right? They owe it to their kids to try to make the marriage work. In earlier minutes of the film, when I was capable of making light, I was thinking ‘It was going to be called “Awkward Married Couples Who Drink a Lot And Hate Each Other”, but Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was already taken.’
But it stops being like that. It begins to numb. The ability to comprehend what you have just seen is wrapped in thick gauze. Clara walked out of the cinema, dazed, needing to link my arm for physical support. It’s kind of that sort of movie, and not the sort you should see if you love someone. It has the power to mess you up. The best way to describe it is the sort of film that becomes so horrid and awkward in its atmosphere that the audience will latch onto anything – in this case, Kathy Bates’ mentally unstable son who sees “the truth” (this is code for rudeness) – to get laughs. While the scenes in question actually kind of froze my blood, the rest of the cinema was having a laff riot. Joke was on them when the son left and Dicaprio and Winslet are alone again, and the film never recovered.

I think a large part of the “problem” with Revolutionary Road is that the characters have key ingredients that audience members can identify with: Frank’s failure to divine his goal in life, April’s dreams that have long been shattered into dust, and even neighbour Shep’s forever teasingly-semi-requited love. The movie is surprisingly revelatory in the characters’ ambitions and offers some suggestions as to why they’re unrealised; the only character who gets short shrift in that regard is Shep’s wife, Millie, who is content to cry for no reason. Perhaps she doesn’t even know. Why do we need a damning indictment of the American Dream? What the heckfire is the American Dream if two people having it could lead to all of this? How can two people, from whom we only get the briefest of flashes of reasoning as to the origins of their love, be so thoroughly isolated from one another? It’s ambiguous at best, and I’m not willing to go back for another pass.

I won’t hesitate to say that the acting was very good indeed, and the period music was used effectively, and traditional fifties and sixties methods of movie making, like tactfully removing the children from the picture with only retrospect to explain it – Sirk via Haynes, if you will – are impressive. Liking the craft is not the same as liking the film. I’ll feel more comfortable suggesting that Revolutionary Road is like Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven, a film that threw every possible drama at Julianne Moore, relentlessly, for two hours, but with a key difference: that was deliberate melodrama; this is melancholia. I think I know which I prefer.

Cynically speaking, Revolutionary Road shows that movies in which very little good or uplifting happens get a favourable reception from critics. I’m fairly certain that Revolutionary Road is a good movie that one likely would never want to see again. Appreciate the performances, baulk at whatever message you may glean from it, and place it out of mind in favour of happier things. That sounds weak, I know, but Revolutionary Road doesn’t strike me as either profound or insightful, but rather as soul crushing. No good deeds shine in this dreary world.

4 Comments

  1. Carol February 19, 2009
  2. Kim February 19, 2009
  3. Alex February 19, 2009
  4. Kim February 23, 2009

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