By Matt Brunson
DIRECTED BY Sam Mendes
STARS Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet
Revolutionary Road reunites Titanic stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, and they're both exceptional in this adaptation of Richard Yates’ highly acclaimed novel. Whether the film itself will satisfy moviegoers expecting to see the pair again in the throes of starry-eyed passion is another matter altogether, since romance is kept at a minimum in this appropriately edgy drama. Sam Mendes, the Oscar-winning director of American Beauty, has made another American beauty, this one a powerful examination of a young couple trying desperately to deal with the plasticity of 1950s suburbia. One of the most somber of all the award-season titles, it’s nevertheless a must for discerning adults who don’t mind getting their hands dirty on messy emotions.
Set in mid-1950s Connecticut, the story (adapted by Justin Haythe) concerns itself with Frank and April Wheeler, who view themselves as being different from everyone else who lives in their pristine neighborhood – even their realtor (Kathy Bates) describes them as “special.” But time spent toiling away within the boundaries of the so-called American dream quickly takes its toll, with April (formerly an aspiring actress) bored with being a common housewife and mother and Frank tired of being just one more working stiff in a gray flannel suit (to paraphrase the title of Sloan Wilson’s definitive novel about 50s businessmen). In an effort to revitalize their dreams as well as salvage their devotion to each other, April suggests to Frank that they move to Paris and start a new life. Flush with excitement, the couple start to make plans, only to find that old routines – no matter how detested – die hard.
Who among us hasn’t yearned to throw off the shackles of conformity and live life to the fullest? Those with a willingness for navel-gazing will be receptive to this material far more than those who prefer to keep blinders fully attached, but there’s no denying that Mendes and his actors – including an intense Michael Shannon as a schizophrenic intellectual with a nasty habit of always calling it as he sees it – have created an unsettling piece that gets under the skin. “You jump, I jump,” the lovers in Titanic told each other. Here, the two aren’t as united, each standing on the brink of uncertainty, peering into the dark abyss of an unknown future, and trying desperately not to tumble into the chilly depths of American ennui.