In 2008, before Revolutionary Road was released, the film generated a ton of hype for a variety of reasons. Most obviously, it was the first on-screen pairing of Titanic stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed). It was also buzz-worthy for the fact that Kate Winslet’s then-husband, Sam Mendes (Skyfall), was directing her in a film that required her to have sex scenes with two different men. That’s a feat of marital trust that I’m not sure that I could pull off. While the film was generally well-received, it’s praise nowhere near matched the hype, and having come to the film five years later removed from the hype, I see Revolutionary Road as a film with infinite promise that is sullied by some of the worst, most overcooked dialogue I’ve ever encountered for this blog.
To Revolutionary Road‘s credit, the film is dark beyond compare. The only thing keeping this from being a Todd Solondz-esque journey into suburban malaise is a general lack of graphic material. As a portrait of a marriage on the perpetual verge of collapse and of lives (and perhaps an entire human existence) that are devoid of meaning and fulfillment, Revolutionary Road starts bleak, stays bleak, and ends bleak, and it never shies away from the most brutal and intimate moments in a marriage. With astounding performances from its leads (and supporting player Michael Shannon), Revolutionary Road could have been one of the most effecting character pieces of the 2000s. As it is, I found myself laughing every five minutes from the comically overblown dialogue and speechifying from its principal players.
Dysfunctional barely begins to cover the marriage of the Wheeler family in the supposed perfectness of the 1950s. Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) works as a salesman/copy writer for the same firm his father worked for and hates the complete lack of purpose in his life. April (Kate Winslet) was a former actress who now pretends to love her empty life as a house wife. Frank cheats on April with a cute secretary (Zoe Kazan) while April has eyes for their neighbor, Shep. When the duo decide that the only way to save their marriage and their lives by moving to Paris, have they found their last chance for hope or is it just another delusion that their lives can have any meaning?
While I have the sneaking suspicion that this is a movie I may actually appreciate on a second viewing, that didn’t make the first viewing any more bearable. It takes until the film’s final thirty minutes for the slow dripping of characterization to finally gel into something meaningful, and by that time, I had already exhausted my patience with the film’s snail-like pacing. Movies like Sunday Bloody Sunday show that deliberate peeling away of character can make for first-class drama, but Revolutionary Road betrays its thematic material and rich characterization with mind-numbing emotional histrionics and dialogue that nukes away any subtlety the scenes might have carried.
Thankfully, the film had three simply marvelous performances to distract me from the stunningly awful dialogue in the movie (and it’s flaccid first two acts). Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet give one of the best performances of their careers as these spouses whose indifference towards one another spills over to near hatred. Each is lost and hollow and desperate for any form of acceptance and meaning, and through their emotionally explosive performances, Kate and Leo make us feel the years of pent-up resentment and frustration eating away at these two spouses. That they achieve this despite the dialogue hurdles in their way is even more of a testament to their performances.
The real scene-stealer of the film though was Michael Shannon whose dynamic portrayal of the mentally unstable son of the Wheelers’ real estate agent provided the film the emotional and manic jolt it needed to put the pieces in play for the film’s rewarding final stretch. Along with Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook, this was a superb modern portrayal of mental illness (i.e. a portrayal set in the 50s). Michael Shannon was the only cast member to receive an Academy Award nomination. Kate and Leo deserved them as well, but more than anyone, Michael Shannon’s performance was incendiary.
I’ll draw this review to a close because there are other ways I’d rather spend my Wednesday evening than rambling about a film I didn’t particularly care for. There’s a lot to like about Revolutionary Road (and Sam Mendes’s visual direction is superb), but there are even more things to hate about it. I can’t stress enough how “pretentious college theatre student” the dialogue in this movie felt and how much it drew me out of the experience again and again. If you’re a fan of good acting, I’m not sure if I can say that Leo and Kate make this film worth the price of admission, but they’re about the only thing that could.
Final Score: C+