Revolutionary Road Kicks the American Dream to the Curb
- Friday, December 26, 2008
DVD Release Date: June 2, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: December 26, 2008 (limited); January 16, 2008 (wide)
Rating: R (for language and some sexual content/nudity)
Genre: Drama, Adaptation
Run Time: 119 min.
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn
Having a stable job, healthy family, and nice home in a pleasant neighborhood may be the worst kind of life. A pregnancy and job promotion aren’t blessings; they’re curses. And if you’re the wife who must endure the inhumane torture of having all of your basic needs met and more—with a husband (though imperfect) who’s genuinely working and sacrificing all that he can to build a good life—well you’re obviously serving a life sentence.
If that’s your life but you were oblivious to how bad off you really were, well now you can thank Revolutionary Road for your current enlightenment. Ah, we all can see clearly now! Suburbia is the place where passions go to die. Homes are elaborate tombstones in the Cemetery of Dreams. But wait, maybe there’s still hope. Quit your job! Forego that promotion! Blow your savings! Run off to Paris! Heck, have an abortion if you must! But please, for the love of Humanism, get out of there at all costs! Before it’s too late!
This is the vision of post-WWII America in Revolutionary Road, an American Beauty: 1950s Edition, if you will. Linking those two films is an apt thematic comparison, and especially fitting since both share the same director, Sam Mendes. He won an Oscar for staging that overrated load of hogwash, and now like a pig returning to the trough he’s back for more. Oscar voters may very well be willing to slop that up again (some love nothing more than a good ole preachy indictment of Middle America!), but don’t be fooled if they do.
Sure, it’s set a couple of generations back (as it’s based on Richard Yates’ acclaimed 1961 debut novel, though clearly there’s a desired contemporary relevancy here), but if you want to see universal mid-life struggles and regrets explored, set in the same time period examining the exact same themes—but done brilliantly—you can find it on TV. It’s called Mad Men. But this? It depicts Normalcy and simplifies it to the point of judgmental contempt in a heavy-handed sermon about the unmerciful hell that is Suburbia.
Revolutionary Road juxtaposes the idyllic image of the American Dream with the deterioration of a marriage that has become an absolute nightmare—via an ironic casting reunion of those Titanic stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as the doomed couple Frank and April Wheeler. All of the elements of “How to Make an Important Film” are there: rocky marriage, problems at work, temptations of infidelity, dreams unfulfilled, all suppressed behind the veneer of the aforementioned American Dream—set to a melancholy music score, of course. No cliché is left unturned.
It becomes clear that April is the film’s liberated ideal, which isn’t a good thing. Yearning to escape their emotionally dead lives, she convinces Frank that they (along with their two kids) can make a way of abandoning their present security to pursue his childhood dream of living in Paris, where he could “find himself” while she works a government job (she stresses they pay really well there on more than one occasion). He actually buys her reasoning, but it becomes a hard sell to the neighbors who become flummoxed (which really means “jealous”; they’re much too repressed to dare live their lives like the Wheelers) upon hearing of their decision to throw caution to the wind.
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