Revolutionary Road

revolutionary_roadIn this tale of domestic strife, Sam Mendes returns to a familiar theme: the tarnished American Dream. However, the scathing satire of his directorial debut, American Beauty, takes on a far bleaker tone in Revolutionary Road. Based on Richard Yates’ 60s novel, the film reunites Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet for the first time since James Cameron’s smash hit Titanic in 1997.

Following in the footsteps of the 1966 film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the story follows Frank Wheeler and his wife April, a young couple trapped in a marriage of conformity during the fifties. Frank works in a job he hates, yet affects an air of superiority, believing he’s destined for a better life, though clueless as to what that life might be. His wife is a typical 50’s homemaker, raising two children in the couple’s immaculate suburban home and wondering what has become of her youthful ambitions. It’s a tarnished version of the American Dream. “Look at us,” April moans to Frank. “We’re just like everyone else. We’ve bought into the same ridiculous delusion – this idea that you have to settle down and resign from life.”

A defining scene shows Frank driving April home after an awful amateur dramatics production. The evening hits April particularly hard because it puts paid to her belief that she is superior to her parochial neighbours, and reveals that her pre-marital dreams of being an actress couldn’t have been realised.

When one day April suggests upping sticks and moving to Paris, a glimmer of hope emerges on the horizon, and it seems for a few brief days that the couple may escape their predicament. The neighbours are aghast. Who do the Wheelers think they are, to assume they are worthy of a different life? But after a night of passionate lovemaking, fuelled by the prospect that the relationship might finally blossom abroad, April gets pregnant. When Frank is also offered a promotion at work the temptation is too great, and he decides to stay, resulting in some crockery-smashing, child-waking marital spats.

While many filmmakers shy away from the unfashionable theme of marriage, Mendes picks it apart with such intense scrutiny that, like the Wheelers’ stiff-lipped neighbours, you don’t really know where to look. A marriage based on romance and little else is bound to capsize when set against the storms of real life.

Winslett and DiCaprio give an intense performance on which the whole film hangs. They are totally engaged with each other, their eyes betraying years of disappointment and untold hurt. Although they have sacrificed much in the name of marriage, both are highly narcissistic and self-absorbed. We soon realise during the arguments that follow that April’s Paris suggestion was much more about fulfilling her own needs than those of her husband. Michael Shannon also deserves a mention for his portrayal of John, the local lunatic who serves to expose the Wheelers’ insecurities and failings.

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