There was a lot of talk this year about whether or not The Dark Knight could overtake Titanic atop the list of highest grossing film of all-time. As a result, the topic of the “Kate and Leo” reunion in Revolutionary Road was not too far beneath that conversation (if you’re in my group of friends, that is). The question going into the film wasn’t “Can Kate and Leo re-capture that Titanic dynamic?” but more “Can they portray a believable married couple?” The answer: “Meh.”
Revolutionary Road, which has already garnered 4 Golden Globe nominations, obviously had some expectations to live up to. These weren’t propagated by Titanic, but more by the fact that Sam Mendes is an Academy Award winning director whose last movie (Jarhead) was a mixed bag and showcases two of the best actors working today (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) with the promise of a bitter marriage slowly falling apart and the drama that ensues. I kind of pictured the ending to the Sopranos fourth season or something akin to the turmoil we saw unfold in great films like Ordinary People or In the Bedroom.
Revolutionary Road is not really what I expected, but that’s not to say that it won me over either.
DiCaprio and Winslet play Frank and April Wheeler, a couple with children in suburbia who want to leave behind their slightly raised house and start anew in Paris, where Frank (who works for a communications company) can have the time to find out what he wants to do with his life. Obviously, there are some hiccups in the plan and it leads to continuing tension between the couple. And when I say continuing, I mean there’s barely a moment where it appears these two people can stand each other.
What astonished me about Revolutionary Road was how it took no chances. It’s a divorce without any involvement of the children. It’s a movie about cheating on your loved ones without any repercussions. It centers around shattered hopes for dreams that seemed fleeting at best. Frank and April are completely selfish people, which can be fun to watch, but here it’s just boring. It doesn’t help that Mendes films this like American Beauty 2. Every shot has our characters centered; every note played by composer Thomas Newman is lifted directly from the 1999 film. Except, unlike American Beauty, these characters are absolutely unwatchable.
Uber-talented actors like DiCaprio and Winslet cannot save this film. The dialogue they exchange is ripe with cliche and sputtered like bullshit. Justin Haythe’s script (adapted from the Richard Yates novel) is so full of half-written characters–the certifiable nutjob who is the only one who speaks rationally, the obsessed neighbors, the sexist co-worker, the arrogant boss–that he makes “archetypes” rudimentary. As a rule you can only have so many archetypes in a movie unless you’re going to have one character that breaks the mold. In American Beauty, all the characters itched to break free of said mold. Their struggles, whether successful or not, were interesting to watch. In Revolutionary Road, the kids are cute, the wife is stilted, and the husband needs to prove to himself that he’s a man. And that’s. Basically. It.
The film does pick up in its 3rd act but at that point it’s too-little, too-late. DiCaprio, especially, shows some raw emotion as Winslet contains it. Although I’m sure that’s what Mendes was going for, it begs the question: Why adapt this book into a movie? A story about divorce should be harrowing because of the effects it has on the children and should be intriguing to watch because we should feel a sense of history between the two leads. I hate to say it, but DiCaprio and Winslet lack chemistry–the same thing that made them superstars in the biggest film of all-time over a decade ago. The chief difference there is that Jack and Rose were fighting for their lives; Frank and April are just quietly squandering theirs.
Related Topics: Leonardo DiCaprio