Movie Review: They'll always have Paris... sort of.

Who or what do you blame when a marriage goes wrong? Do you blame the secretary or the neighbor? The job or the kids? The gin or the bedroom? Maybe you blame yourself, or maybe it's nobody's fault, after all, some marriages just aren't meant to last. Frank and April Wheeler met a party, had a laugh and a dance. Twelve years later, they find themselves stuck in the fifties, breaking bottles and furniture all to try and figure out what the hell went wrong. I can't begin to tell you what went wrong with the marriage, but I can tell you what went wrong with the film. First off, it isn't live. This movie would have made for the most phenomenally gripping stage play, but up on the big screen, there's just too much distance to feel the real weight of their problems. Second, what this film tries to do, Mad Men does better. Third, there is no resolution and not in a good way. Let's elaborate on these three points, and then along the way I'll tell you what I actually like about Revolutionary Road, which is still quite a bit.

When you make a film reuniting the two stars of Titanic, you already have an guaranteed audience for your movie. But when that movie is about two people who can no longer stand the sight of each other, I'd be a little worried. This is, of course, unless you're the man responsible for directing American Beauty and married to the Kate Winslet. Sam Mendes is, without question, a great director, and with Revolutionary Road, he delivers on his end, yet again. The reason this film doesn't blow you out of your seat isn't his fault, in fact I'm sure he made the film better than anyone else could have. Revolutionary Road is one of those unfortunate situations where the material would be suited to live theater than it is to the screen. The movie ultimately fails to get in your face, but it's not for lack of trying. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet both give good performances as the Wheelers, and I really wish I could say that's all the film needed. Through all their ranting, kissing, screaming and hugging, you find people that you can easily relate to. You don't have to be a part of a failed marriage to understand how they feel, you only need to have had a couple of real good fights. Kathy Bates is also rejoined with her Titanic cohorts, only this time she plays the opposite of The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Bates gives a fine performance in a relatively small role, but is crucial to the story in that she introduces the "nice young Wheelers" to her son, John. John, played by Michael Shannon, also plays a small role in the film, but makes an enormous impact on both the Wheelers and the audience. Shannon aptly turned John into a version of Ledger's Joker, minus the make-up. His maniacal laugh and disturbing stare, mixed with the best lines in the film, makes Shannon a definite best supporting role contender. David Harbour and Kathryn Hahn, as the Campbells, also give decent performances, more Harbour than Hahn. They play the couple you inevitably have to compare to the Wheelers. Shannon is the only one who ultimately jumped off the screen enough that I didn't need to see him in person to know how good he was. As for Leo and Kate, high marks for trying hard, middle ones for the actual outcome.

For those of you not familiar with the AMC hit show,
Mad Men, it's basically the same plot as Revolutionary Road, only more fleshed out and with an ensemble of characters instead of just two. The film is the show, if the show only focused on leads Don Draper and his wife Betty, and if Don Draper was more like the young ambitious, but unsure and emasculated Pete Campbell. I apologize if all of this means nothing to you, but I couldn't do a review without pointing out the similarities. I know that it's not exactly fair to compare two pieces just because they're both about fifties suburbia, and I wouldn't even bother with the comparison, except that Mad Men accomplishes what the film so desperately tries to, ten times better. Through the combo of performances, writing and direction, I never felt that the show was anything but perfect in its incarnation. I went into Revolutionary Road hoping to feel the same way, but came out wanting. Better writing maybe? After all, nobody says each other's names fifteen times within the span of one argument ("Listen April!... Come on Frank!...). I was looking for realism, since that seemed to be the whole point of the story. While some things resonated, others fell just shy of impact or passed over completely. And where were the kids during 90% of the movie? Still at that birthday party...

While half of the film explores their downward spiral, the other half is spent with a rejuvenated and hopeful couple, filled with dreams of a life changing move to Paris. They never seem to be able to pull it together though, leading both them and us back to the inevitable doom and gloom of the story. This is not a happy tale, pretty much from top to bottom. It has a lot in common with Mendes'
American Beauty, but unlike Beauty, you don't feel that the end of the film conveys a message (or at least a message worth hearing). If the point of the film was to show how marriage can disintegrate a life, than kudos to everyone involved. But if there was a deeper message somewhere in there, fighting to get out, than I'm not sure that point was made. Perhaps the point was just to show how we're all finding ways to cope, and maybe that should have been enough for me.

Short and Sweet

Revolutionary Road tries so very hard to smother you with tension, but doesn't end up playing into realism as much as it should have. The film is beautifully shot and well directed, but the performances didn't jump off the screen as much as I would have hoped, with the exception of the outstanding Michael Shannon. I think Kate and Leo did their best, but it just wasn't enough. Viewer BEWARE! This is not a easy film, and it will not leave you very hopeful, but it's still important to see nonetheless. I may be a little harsh on it in my review, but Revolutionary Road is worth seeing, just not worth an Oscar nod.

Fav Quotes

"You're just some guy who made me laugh at a party once." - April Wheeler

1 comment:

Anh Khoi Do said...

Oh well, now that you mention it, I also think that this film wouldn't be bad as a stage play since it looks like a tragedy. Anyway, I loved it.

Mendes is a good director in a sense that he manages to make the movie's slow pace be an added value. In fact, while we're introduced to the couple's problem, we're slowly brought toward what makes the Wheelers a dysfunctional couple. Speaking of that, I also liked how Kate Winslet's performance shows that April is becoming, as time goes by, an empty shell devoid of any passion for life (hence the end of the film). Moreover, I would rather compare Revolutionary Road to the Canadian independent film Falling Angels. These two films take place in the suburbs. However, Falling Angels talks about a whole dysfunctional family.