I really hate "Revolutionary Road", the new film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet and directed by Winslet's husband, Sam Mendes ("American Beauty", "The Road to Perdition").
After a very brief scene showing Frank and April (DiCaprio and Winslet) meeting at a party in New York City, circa the late 40s or early 50s, the film flashes forward almost a decade and we watch as Frank and April fight about how unhappy they are living in the suburbs. April is going stir crazy spending her days in the suburbs, taking the garbage out, and Frank commutes to New York City to work in a cubicle writing sales materials for the Knox Corporation. It's Frank's 30th birthday and his entire world is crushing in on him. When he returns home, April and the two kids sing "Happy Birthday" and give him a cake, complete with lit candles. But Frank is still unhappy. April suddenly comes up with an idea. They will uproot the family and move to Paris, the only place Frank has ever felt 'alive'. She will get a job and Frank can study and read and decide what it is he wants to do with his life, what it is he is good at. When they tell the neighbors, their friends, Shep and Milly (David Harbour and Kathryn Hahn), who are even more entrenched in suburbia, their plans, Shep and Milly are not encouraging.
At one point late in the film, very late, April turns to Frank and says "Can we just not talk about anything for a little while?" Hallelujah, sister. Maybe if they talked less during the film, there would be less fighting. Maybe we would see more of their life and the decisions that led them into this predicament. Maybe "Revolutionary Road" could've provided a scathing portrait of how two young people end up living in suburbia and are unable to cope with the limitations of such a life. Actually, in this film, that means they are dead and must make stupid, irrational decisions in an effort to live.
In "Road", practically the entire film is about Frank and April being unhappy with each other. It makes sense that so much of the film concentrates on them; Leo and Kate are the stars and they appeared together in the number #1 money-making film of all time. I will never understand why filmmakers think it is a good idea to put two people the public love so much in a film in which all they do is fight? It just makes the entire film uncomfortable to watch and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Exactly what every filmmaker should be striving for. The only way to make this type of story work is to show us events leading up to these arguments, to provide some sort of counterpoint, to give us a flavor of why they fell in love in the first place. Strangely, these films almost never seem to do this, skipping directly to the fighting and the fireworks.
So it is even more perplexing when director Mendes shifts away from the action and gives us an interlude with Shep and Milly, or introduces a busybody realtor played by Kathy Bates and her mentally ill adult son played by Michael Shannon. These moments pull us away from the main story, which means we are pulled away from the constant fighting and self-loathing, which isn't a bad thing. But as a filmmaker, Mendes should not be introducing these elements unless they help to move the story forward. Concentrate on Frank and April. They are the reason we paid $12 in the first place. The scenes with Kathy Bates and Michael Shannon are particularly egregious and stick out like a sore thumb. Did Mendes really believe these characters were realistic? I get the purpose of Shannon's character, but it is always a tricky thing to introduce a mentally ill character. It is difficult to make them believable. And in "Road", Shannon isn't believable. He is as theatrical as April wants to be in her nascent acting career.
When I initially saw the trailer for this film, I suggested it to my mother as a possible Christmas Day film. She immediately nixed it. "Oh, no. When I saw that trailer Aunt Kathy and I laughed and thought they were play acting". In a way, she isn't far from the truth. Leo's Frank Wheeler turns 30 at the beginning of the film. This prompts him to have a mid-life crisis, have an affair, loathe the sight of his wife and family, etc. Kate's April would be about the same age. This young couple is apparently very self-aware of their problems to be so unhappy at 30. Especially when neither demonstrates a real calling for some great life as an artist, writer, dancer, and the like. Generally, people experience their mid-life crisis at least a decade later. Good for them. Maybe when they grow up they'll be able to live a happy life.
Or maybe not.
Early on, Frank watches April performing in a play that appears to be put on by a local community theater. It doesn’t go well and Frank tries to say a few encouraging words, But April is just as aware that it didn't go well and they fight during the drive home. Unfortunately, the entire film seems like kids play acting the roles their parents should be playing. DiCaprio still has amazing boyish good looks, despite a few more wrinkles, and just seems miscast as a 30 year old experiencing a midlife crisis. It doesn't help that many of their arguments devolve into each of the characters throwing multi-syllable words at each other that just don't seem natural. It makes them sound like they are regurgitating bad Freud they learned in a college course they recently completed. Worse, it makes them seem like they are spouting over written, stagy dialogue. I just never bought DiCaprio as a defeated businessman and father. In a couple of scenes, he has lunch with a few co-workers, one of whom is played by well-known character actor Dylan Baker. Baker is 15 years older than DiCaprio. I buy HIM as a disenchanted, middle aged man experiencing a mid-life crisis. DiCaprio is simply too young. Winslet fares better, but she also tends to start yelling at Frank, using words that just don't flow naturally and seem stagy and over-written, making her character seem like a little kid playing a grown up role.
There are many, many scenes in which Frank, April, their friends and his co-workers are pictured smoking and drinking. This also seems to make both DiCaprio and Winslet seem younger than they actually are. They are acting like college kids away from home for the first time. Scotch, Bourbon, Whiskey, Gin, Rye, Beer, Wine, Cocktails? Sure. Let's try them all. Could be fun.
"Revolutionary Road" is a trial to sit through. Wait until it comes out on DVD and rent "The Break-Up" to go with it. The perfect double bill. Just make sure you're stocked up on the anti-depressants before hitting PLAY.