Love Asunder

Revolutionary Road
Running time 119 minutes
Written by Justin Haythe
Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kathy Bates, David Shannon

 

Revolutionary Road, under the detailed, sharp-eyed guidance of Sam Mendes, is a flawless, moment-to-moment autopsy of a marriage on the rocks and an indictment of the American Dream gone sour. When they meet, Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and the fabulous Kate Winslet) have youth, beauty, energy and hopes of setting the world on fire. Frank is heading for the top of the business world. April is an actress aiming for stardom. By the time they’re 30, he’s stuck in a dead-end job in the office where his father worked before him, and she’s trapped in a suburban house with two kids, running vacuums and baking cakes. This is a model couple in the same 1950s time warp as The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and TV’s captivating Mad Men—two Norman Rockwell subjects posing for a Saturday Evening Post cover who bought the American cliché that marrying young, owning a house, commuting to work every day and supporting a family somehow equals success and fulfillment. The question posed in Richard Yates’ groundbreaking 1961 novel and in Justin Haythe’s reverently adapted screenplay is deceptively simple: Once you dig the hole, how do you get out?

Taking inventory of their mortgaged lives, Frank and April decide to trade in dull drudgery for bold and fearless stimulation, move to Paris, and start over again. Both discover it’s not easy to jump-start a dead battery. Frank accepts a job promotion, April plunges into the depression of a third, unplanned pregnancy. Truths come spewing out like poisoned plosives. They turn into hollow, empty Polaroids of their former selves. They fight, they make up, they say cruel and withering things, they apologize, they settle for unwanted responsibilities and compromise, while grown-up pragmatism heads south, destined for a tragic collision with a brick wall. Because the script and the actors are so appealing, you care about these people—so much, in fact, that the chill of impending doom that rustles across your skin when you sense the coming despair is inevitable. Once again, it’s not what happens that penetrates the emotions in Revolutionary Road. It’s a film about feelings, disappointments, desperation and hollow dreams. You go away asking unavoidable questions about relationships in a changing world, like how do you pretend to enjoy the worst kind of surface happiness without betraying the dormant joy that once lit the best of your inner self? How, in life’s detours, do you stay the best of lovers and yet be the best of friends? The unflinchingly honest Winslet-DiCaprio team illuminates with clarity and precision each mood swing of two people who start out thinking they’ll be special and wonderful until life gets in the way; they’re empowered by a captivating supporting cast that includes Kathy Bates as the Chatty Cathy realtor who sells them their ticket to suburban hell, and Michael Shannon as her schizophrenic son, who has learned to lay his disillusionment on the table without pretense, like a frozen turkey the cook forgot to defrost.

Layer after layer unpeels, rendering the viewer paralyzed with sympathy and loss, yet invigorated by the superior artistry of it all. Revolutionary Road, a title that symbolizes the downward slope of American idealism—from the grounded thinking of the 18th-century revolution to the second-rate materialism of 20th-century “progress”—is a profound, intelligent and deeply heartfelt work that raises the bar of filmmaking to exhilarating heights of greatness.

rreed@observer.com

Love Asunder