Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet go nowhere fast in Revolutionary Road.
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD directed by Sam Mendes, written by Justin Haythe after the novel by Richard Yates, with Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon and Kathy Bates. A Paramount Vantage release. 120 minutes. Opens Friday (January 2). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NN
Frank and April meet at a party. He's gorgeous; she's radiant. Of course, they end up together. He tells her he wants to travel the world, do great things - write a great novel, or maybe paint. She tells him she's going to be a Broadway star. None of those things will happen.
Instead, they end up nine years later living a pretty comfortable life in a big suburban house in Connecticut. Frank works in Manhattan, writing brochures for a chain of banks or something, while April stays home with their two kids. He's happy; she's suffocating. And then, on Frank's 30th birthday, April offers him the chance to chuck it all and move to Paris.
That won't happen either.
Welcome to the stifling world of Sam Mendes's Revolutionary Road, a middling middlebrow drama that has the misfortune to arrive two years after its subject was tackled far more skilfully - and on a far larger scale - by a TV show called Mad Men.
It's true that Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner owes a considerable debt to Richard Yates's tales of the quiet desperation of men in grey flannel suits. (The stories of John Cheever would be his other major influence, but good luck spinning 45 minutes of gripping television out of The Five Forty-Eight.)
It's equally true that Mendes can claim he's going directly back to the source, but I'd argue that Revolutionary Road would not exist as a movie right now had Mad Men not seized the pop-cultural moment two summers ago.
And here's the rub: Mad Men does more with Yates's world than the movie that's actually based on Yates's most famous novel. I have no doubt that the appliances in the Wheelers' kitchen are precisely the models that a comfortable Connecticut family would have owned in 1955, and Kate Winslet's wardrobe is perfectly tailored to her timeless figure, but there's almost never a sense that the world on the screen is actually occupied.
Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are ideally cast as a couple on the verge of collapse. Not only does their pairing serve as an ironic re-examination of their Titanic chemistry, but they look great in their mid-50s universe. Winslet captures the hesitant physicality of a woman who just isn't comfortable in her skin, and DiCaprio's boyish looks, curdling now into puffiness around the eyes and the jaw, suggest a former golden boy who's coping better than he expected with the realization that he'll never be a golden man.
But Mendes starts them off at too high an emotional pitch. Six minutes into the movie, they pull off the highway for an epic shouting match that condenses the movie's dramatic thesis into a few bellowed sentences and a theatrical near-slapping. After this, they have nowhere to go. We've had everything spelled out for us, and now it's just a matter of circling the inevitable.
And, boy, does this movie circle, in long, telegraphed scenes of guilt and remonstration between its stars, while bit players turn up to observe that those Wheelers sure have the perfect life. It's sledgehammer irony, right down to the speech fellow Titanic passenger Kathy Bates makes about the Wheelers being little revolutionaries on Revolutionary Road. At this point, I cringed in my seat, thinking, "Jeez, they cut all the interior monologues and the subplot about the girl from the steno pool, but they found room for that?"
The only performer who feels genuinely, electrically alive is the guy who's literally too big for the room. As a mentally unstable acquaintance who takes a perverse pleasure in showing people his electroshock scars, Michael Shannon takes his two scenes and runs with them. DiCaprio and Winslet do a fine job of appearing unsettled by his presence, but then maybe no acting was required.